Sophie Lewis - Rather than making surrogacy illegal or allowing it to continue as is, Lewis argues we should be looking to radically transform it. Surrogates should be put front and center, and their rights to the babies they gestate should be expanded to acknowledge that they are more than mere vessels. In doing so we can break down our assumptions that children necessarily belong to those whose genetics they share.

Image result for Sophie Lewis, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family
Sophie Lewis, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, Verso, 2019.

In order to become ethically acceptable, surrogacy must change beyond recognition. But we need more surrogacy, not less!The surrogacy industry is worth over 1 billion dollars a year, and many of its surrogates work in terrible conditions, while many gestate babies for no pay at all. Should it be illegal to pay someone to gestate a baby for you?
Full Surrogacy Now brings a fresh and unique perspective to the debate. Rather than making surrogacy illegal or allowing it to continue as is, Sophie Lewis argues we should be looking to radically transform it. Surrogates should be put front and center, and their rights to the babies they gestate should be expanded to acknowledge that they are more than mere vessels. In doing so we can break down our assumptions that children necessarily belong to those whose genetics they share.
This might sound like a radical proposal but expanding our idea of who children belong to would be a good thing. Taking collective responsibility for children, rather than only caring for the ones we share DNA with, would radically transform notions of kinship. Adopting this expanded concept of surrogacy helps us to see that it always, as the saying goes, takes a village to raise a child.

“Rooted in historical, site-based, narrative, and political accounts, Full Surrogacy Now is the seriously radical cry for full gestational justice that I long for ... Full of brilliant, generative, and also shamelessly biting critique of both bourgeois and communist tracts, feminist and otherwise, Lewis’s voice is unique and bracing.”—Donna Haraway

“Lewis takes one of the most everyday things about being human and thinks it through from the point of view of a cyborg communism. This book goes far into places where few gender abolitionists have ventured and brings us a vision of another life.”—McKenzie Wark
Full Surrogacy Now is more than an intervention, it is a landmark text of visionary feminist thinking. Sophie Lewis tears down decades of essentialist and contradictory presumptions on labor, motherhood and ownership to offer us the possibility of new ways to live with and for each other. This book is as breathtaking as it is necessary.”—Natasha Lennard

Full Surrogacy Now arrived and I could not stop reading. The crises of our time are crises of reproduction. Radical that she is, Sophie Lewis gets right to the root of the matter—and, radical that she is, finds its roots to be intersecting and entangled, ‘lovely, replicative, baroque,’ as one of her own gestators, Donna Haraway, might put it. But the gestator? Lewis moves expertly through decades of debates, as well as a rapidly growing body of empirical research, on surrogacy to carry us beyond the by-now familiar refrain that this or that activity ‘is work.’ Her goal could hardly be more ambitious: to rethink the ‘natural’ gestation that every one of us comes from. I will reread this book for the sense it gives me that new ways of making one another and the world new might, in fact, be possible. Its verve and wit make me feel sure that Lewis’ reproductive commune will be fun.” —Moira Weigel

“An instructive and moving book about the work of babymaking and the best possible future for birthing and raising children. It offers both a convincing polemic about surrogacy’s past and present, and a vision of how to make it both more common and more mutually beneficial. Lewis treats surrogacy as a signal example of what will be integral to any common human flourishing to come: unmaking gender and the family as we know them, to build new kinds of sociality and care for what is not ‘biologically’ ‘ours.’ I was floored by it.” —Sarah Brouillette

“Sophie Lewis is at the top of a new generation of scholars and activists thinking the transformation of gestational labor within contemporary pharmacopornographic capitalism. Neither simply natural nor banally cultural, gestation appears as the unthought core of gender and sexual politics, and the key of a forthcoming womb revolution: trans-Marx meets mammal’s politics!”—Paul B. Preciado

 "Sophie Lewis and her expansive vision of feminism are desperately needed right now. She makes the work of undoing what ‘womanhood’ has come to mean look possible and irresistible." —Melissa Gira Grant

“Pregnancy. Babies. Families. Nature itself. Like capitalism, communism knows no bounds. Relentless in the task of seizing of the means of reproduction, Sophie Lewis is the Right’s worst nightmare.”—George Ciccariello-Maher

“Sophie Lewis and her expansive vision of feminism are desperately needed right now. She makes the work of undoing what ‘womanhood’ has come to mean look possible and irresistible.”—Melissa Gira Grant

Sophie Lewis is a theorist, critic and translator living in Philadelphia. She publishes her work – on topics ranging from dating to Donna Haraway – on both scholarly and non-academic platforms including Boston Review, Viewpoint, Signs, Science as Culture, Jacobin, The New Inquiry, Mute, and Salvage Quarterly. Her translations include Communism for Kids by Bini Adamczak (MIT, 2016, with Jacob Blumenfeld), A Brief History of Feminism by Antje Schrupp (MIT, 2017), and Other and Rule by Sabine Hark and Paula Villa (Verso, forthcoming). A feminist committed to cyborg ecology and queer communism, she is a member of the Out of the Woods collective and an editor at Blind Field: A Journal of Cultural InquiryFull Surrogacy Now is her first book


Aaron Kent - an experimental-verse-novella, inspired by the works of Mark Z Danielewski, Luke Kennard, and Max Porter. It is seperated into 8 different chapters, and narrated by death as he recounts carrying eight different people into the afterlife.

Aaron Kent, Subsequent Death, zimZalla, 2018.
Click here for a sample.

Subsequent death is an experimental-verse-novella, inspired by the woks of Mark Z Danielewski, Luke Kennard, and Max Porter. It is seperated into 8 different chapters, and narrated by death as he recounts carrying eight different people into the afterlife. The font/colour/style changes with each chapter, and readers can expect to have to turn the book around, follow paths through writing, and even have to read the book upside down in a mirror to understand certain passages.

Your verse-novella Subsequent Death is quite radical in terms of its presentation (the way the text is arranged, its colour and shape etc), are you planning to do more work like this or was Subsequent Death a one-off?
I am hoping to do a pseudo-sequel to Subsequent Death called Subsequent Birth which tells the story of 8 different lives coming into the world – as opposed to eight lives leaving the world in Subsequent Death. I want to do more stuff like this, but not to the point where it become my ‘thing’. I’ve got another book coming out with Guillemot in 2018/2019 about West Penwith in Cornwall, where my poems are alongside photos by William Arnolds. That was interesting because I’ve never really done pastoral poetry before, or poetry about Cornwall.
I’ve also got a book entirely in my made up language, and a more traditional poetry book on the horizon – both of which are in consideration with publishers at the moment. I think the key, for me, is to keep evolving. I don’t want to be tied down to one style, nor do I want to change styles for the sake of it – I will write however suits me and my mood at the time. https://theimportanceofbeingaloof.tumblr.com/post/166174402114/5-questions-with-aaron-kent

I don’t know where this book came from.
I don’t remember buying it, I don’t remember accepting an offer for a copy of it, I don’t remember being given it in person. But, alas, here it is, in my hand and now in my head: Subsequent Death by Aaron Kent, a book of prose poetry of a type I don’t know how to name, published by Zimzalla. Let’s dive in.
Subsequent Death is narrative poetry, and speaks from the perspective of a slightly-tweaked idea of the Grim Reaper. Each chapter shows this personified Death meeting a different person (or persons) on their way to the afterlife. This premise allows for meditations and asides on a range of different topics including the futility of war, the redemptive life-giving energy of fucking, the smug sense of karmic retribution when a people trafficker drowns in his own ship, and (of course) the pointlessness of religion. There’s some genuinely wise and (probably accurate) writing about how those who are most likely to beg for more life are those who have not lived well, those who have not been happy, but here this urge is treated as nonsensical, rather than as the relatable and sad truth that it evokes. I don’t know if this is Kent’s opinion or the opinion solely of his narrator, but for me the validity of this idea is evidence of optimism rather than fear, of the persistence of hope even until the end of life.
“Why beg for the continuation of a hated existence unless you hadn’t lost hope in a better life?”
I found myself asking
One could argue, of course, that the threat of “hell” and “eternal torture” could keep people craving life through fear, but I don’t think that is true, certainly not any more. I think people beg for more life because they believe in happiness, they believe in the potentiality of change and they believe, hopefully, in the potential of another week, another month, another year being just about enough time for them to fucking turn things around and enjoy themselves, even if just for a bit…
To live a little longer to taste a little more, one small mite, of a rare pleasure.
One more fuck, one more kiss, one more hug, one more walk in the park, one more swim in the ocean, one more lick from a dog, one more beer with an old friend, one more level of Super Mario Bros…
One more night on the town, one more tweet, one more novel, one more book of experimental poetry read…
One more block of cheese, one more city break, one more poo in an airplane toilet, one more season of Game of Thrones, one more Instagram post that gets 30 likes, one more day waking up in a bed and the arms of somebody good, one more fried egg sandwich, one more fucking risotto ball, one more two hour avant garde jazz playlist on Spotify, one more listen to Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1…
One more two hour car ride in the countryside, one more evening drinking alone and listening to the music I loved as a teenager and reminiscing about how I felt hopeful and free and excited and how even though I was unhappy for ages I made a good life at least for a bit…
One more time picking up my dog’s poo, one more singing loudly to pop songs in my sister’s car, one more going a full day without anyone making me feel like shit, one more book sent to me without me knowing or remembering where it came from…
There are many little things, minuscule things, moments of pleasure, in the most melancholic of lives, and each of these are things we could beg for more of. For years I craved death and at some point I will probably crave death again, but I can imagine myself, at that last moment, begging for just a little bit more, but for a good bit, a good bit a good bit.
“I haven’t read the sixth volume of My Struggle,” I’d beg the Grim Reaper, “and I’d love to do karaoke one more time, will you sing the Kenny Rogers part of ‘Islands In The Stream’, with me, Mr Reaper?”
I’d like to see my friends, I want to remember when they all helped me when I wanted to die. It is only when other people made me feel like I wasn’t inherently hateable that I really learned I really learned I really…
Aaron Kent’s Subsequent Death is structurally inventive, its sentences and ideas bounce between pages and boxes with the pages. Some of it is printed as mirrored text, sometimes lines of text obscure other lines of text and sometimes the readerly eye is stretched across space in a frustrating way but mostly in a manner that adds space for thought and reflection.
There is lots of white space here, and there are lots of strong ideas, and lots of inventive ways in which those strong ideas are displayed.
I enjoyed it, I think. It certainly made me feel reflective, which is something, right? Though I did type this after my final day in a job and while about to leave the house to head to my oldest friend’s wedding, so I think for me to feel anything other than reflective right now would be impossible.
I don’t want to die, but I think that even when I did I would have begged for a little more time to seek happiness. Which is what I did, basically, and – ha ha ha – a little bit of happiness is definitely what I’ve found… - Scott Manley Hadley

Although not well-known in the US, Aaron Kent is a British force. I first came across his work via his Poetic Interviews project, wherein he poetically interviews writers as disparate as James Franco and Sage Francis, Phillip B. Williams and Rebecca Woolf, among many, many others. A question in the form of a poem from Kent and a response in the form of a poem from the interviewee, Poetic Interviews is a long scrolling ingenuity and well worth following. But as a writer unto himself, Kent is also worth searching out. Subsequent Death, his new work, is a novel-in-verse that doubles as typographic melisma of mood and structure; words, sentences, and lines are skewed everywhere throughout the text, and one page rarely looks like the one facing it on the opposite side. I interviewed Kent about the Subsequent Death, the UK writing scene, and his predilection for certain words more than others.
Reading Subsequent Death, I immediately thought of the seminal Modernist literary journal BLAST; the layout, typography, and overall format of Subsequent Death harken back to it in both direct and indirect ways. I also thought of some of Douglas Kearney’s work, a poet I consider one of America’s best. But the book is of course completely its own thing—could you give me a brief overview of its conception and gestation?
The concept of Subsequent Death came about as a way of exercising demons. I had be in group therapy for a while and found that I had become able to forgive myself for things that had happened to me, but I wasn’t able to forgive others. So, rather than talk about it week after week, I decided to approach it creatively—and by metaphorically killing them off, I was able to take control of the traumas and really allow myself to confront and dissolve the feelings I had.
I had also wanted to do something different for a while, something inspired by Danielewski’s wonderful fiction work (such as House of Leaves). I took a little bit of time to learn Adobe InDesign, then began to construct Subsequent Death over the course of one day sat on a train. After I’d got all the pieces together, I sent it to my fantastic editor, Jennifer Edgecombe and began to shape it into the book it is today.
Sadly, I think a lot of US poetry readers don’t know a whole lot about the poetic landscapes in other countries. As a UK resident, who are some of your favorite contemporary UK poets and what makes them unique in your opinion? And what do you think about the scope of contemporary UK poetry in general—things you love, things you wish you could potentially change, things that you think are worth noting?
A few UK poets I love: Siddhartha Bose, Ross Sutherland (who is less poetry focused currently), Andrew Fentham, S.J. Fowler, Emma Hammond, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Tom Jenks, Rupert Loydell, Sandeep Parmar, Max Wallis, Dean Rhetoric, Charlie Baylis.
A few UK presses I love: Penned in the Margins, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, Shearsman, Veer, Nine Arches, Sidekick Books, zimZalla, Carcanet, Bloodaxe.
UK contemporary poetry has seen a recent resurgence in spoken word, and while that is wonderful—and can be the launchpad for somebody’s interest in poetry—I feel it can lead to other forms of poetry being ignored. Spoken word artists are much more likely to get media coverage than other poets, and everything outside almost ends up as kind of niche. But I feel the UK does very well with experimental poetry, and a lot of poets here spend time with other work such as plays, novels, etc. For example, Luke Kennard has recently released his novel The Transition, and Siddhartha Bose is currently touring his new play, No Dogs, No Indians.
How important is narrative to your work? And when you were writing Subsequent Death—which is a novel-in-verse, complete with chapters and a semi-loose, ethereal plot—were you prizing sound more or sense? Both elements equally? Or?
One of the principle ideas behind Subsequent Death was to attempt to create a work where the reader had to be actively reading rather than passive. Technology has meant that people interact with their device, whether it is through swiping the screen, turning the phone, taking photos, etc. And that is wonderful, I’m a big advocate of technological advancements. So I considered how I could make a book that was interactive, while still essentially just being text on a page (no popups, etc). Hence, why Subsequent Death requires the reader to turn the book around or trace things all over the page or grab a mirror and turn the book upside down.
However, I didn’t want to sacrifice narrative to make this work, I didn’t want the book to be a cheap trick. Therefore narrative became rather important, it was essential to ensure that the work itself would hold up regardless of the interactivity of the book. I do like to structure my writing into a narrative—whether that is ensuring my poems fit into themes/sections, or creating a whole narrative for a work. I find it hard when poems go from one theme to another, from one idea to another, throughout a book with any sort of coherence.
Vis-à-vis some of what you discuss above (the demon-exorcising, the group therapy), do you consider yourself a lowercase c confessional writer to a certain degree? Or instead one more indebted to the imagination’s myriad ebbs and flows? When I read Subsequent Death I had no idea about your personal relationship to the book’s speaker, for example, and that lack didn’t seem to factor in to my enjoyment of the text—although as the volume’s author perhaps you have entirely different notions.
I would like to think that I can achieve being both—that through being confessional, others may not get that sense of the work and enjoy it on a different level, but some may and therefore will find a different reading. I’m a big believer in “the death of the author” and know that I can’t stand over everyone’s shoulder and tell them what I intended. That’s the beauty of writing for me, the difference of interpretations—and all are valid.
I’ve asked this question to quite a few other poets before, but in curiosity’s interest I’ll ask it of you: do you have—or would care to identify—favorite words you return to again and again in your work? Words that you like, for whatever reason. I asked Eileen Myles before, and she hates and won’t use the word shard—too stereotypically poetic—and likes and often employs you and dog. Michael Earl Craig stated that he’s not fond of snack or moist but goes wild with little, tinyviolentlybriskly, and slowly. Are there words, then, that you come back to again and again? Any words that you revile and won’t deign to write or type down?
I return to anthe—one of Saturn’s moons, and I return to arc as a nod to the wonderful J.H. Prynne. I’m really fond of taking sentiments or phrases I’ve used in the past and reusing them in the future but changing them slightly. I used the phrase “even in winter, the sky was full of suns” in a series to represent my father’s disinterest in our disconnection, and later rewrote it as “in winter, the sky needs no suns” to represent my wife and I having a daughter.
I don’t like adverbs really, they quickly annoy me, and I find myself hastily, grumpily, angrily removing them.
Finally, what do you have coming up for 2017 and beyond? Any new writing projects or publishing endeavors we should be aware of? Or creative goals that you wish to accomplish either soon or down the line?
I’ve got a collaborative book with a photographer coming out in 2019 about my home county of Cornwall. I’m writing a novel in a language I made up and am working on a collection of Zekkus. I also have a travel guide, a collection of poems in my made up language, and a collection of traditional poems in consideration with publishers.
I’d really like to get the novel sorted. I think that would be a new endeavor for me, and a really interesting creative departure. I’d also like to have some work released in USA.
I also run Poetic Interviews, and that has taken off massively, though I’d love to see some media and journal promotion about it. - Jeff Alessandrelli


Aaron Kent, The Rink, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018.

The Rink is a layered, experimental chapbook of poetry and 'found' images. Aaron Kent has used an array of materials as the base for this work, ranging from pages of Pat Arrowsmith's On The Brink to his own University dissertation, and then pasted, glued, and drawn over them.
The book looks at the nuclear threat present in today's society, Aaron's working class upbringing, and his becoming a father.

'In The Rink Aaron Kent slips and slides across the slippery surface of word and image, cajoling us to dance with him through handwritten drafts, appropriated language, and all sorts of poetic forms. I encourage everyone to get their skates on and enjoy the ride' - Rupert Loydell

Aaron Kent, Tertiary Colours, Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press, 2018.

Tertiary Colours is a poetic attempt to exorcise demons, to build new bridges, and to shelter one's self from storms. Written in an experimental, concrete style, Tertiary Colours examines Aaron Kent's life through the various traumatic events he has experienced.

Aaron Kent’s Tertiary Colours is at once frenetic and fine-tuned, raw and refined, excoriating and exhilarating.’- Wyl Menmuir

‘There’s darkness. There’s dirt. There are snakes and there are demons. On the surface, this collection of poems seems like a vodka-induced nightmare. But at its core, Tertiary Colours is the untold story of trauma begging you with every page to unravel its intricate parts and let it be heard. And when it is, the walls bleed.’ - Amanda Lovelace

‘Like haibun, these poems take us through a journey punctuated by a dazzling, concise moment to contemplate. Yet rather than an external voyage, we arc through controlled fury, gnashing grief, and, ultimately, love. Kent shows us what it means to look into the self, its depths. Dare to take this journey. You will emerge with a different head.’- Robert Peake

‘A frank, stark and thorough unearthing of one man’s trauma from day one. A poetic cluster-bomb of drug abuse, night sweats and bi-polarity which offer raw and brave insight into mental illness. Toxic and intoxicating soul mining from a smart, fresh poet.’- Daniel Roy Connelly

'This is a sequence of poems that moves fluidly from dreams to living nightmares to abuse, sculpting language with a cinematic surrealism, and always experimenting with form. The poems are raw, and some of them bleed like the wounds from the poet's past. But the poems have a strict formal discipline as well. There is an urgent sense of using words-- and the spaces between them-- as a way to reveal, and crack open, a heightened poetic awareness. The language cuts and bruises, and is filled with killer lines that grab you by the throat, pierce you in the veins, jolt you awake.' - Siddhartha Bose

Poetry as therapy usually produces dull work. It’s function is to aid a person in their recovery or to help them through a difficulty. Insofar as it helps the person writing it, it has value. For the reader though, it can be turgid. Aaron Kent’s Tertiary Colours is anything but. Subtitled A Post-Traumatic Verse, Kent’s pamphlet from independent UK publisher Knives, Forks and Spoons manages to avoid the worst aspects of poetry-as-therapy. Instead, in this short work – it runs to just 33 pages – we are invited into a densely packed, frightening world where trauma haunts the everyday and paralyses the narrator of the poems. It is emotionally exhausting to read – impactful, unflinching, it is poetry not for the faint of heart.
There is nothing certain in the world of these poems, the animal and the human mix and bleed into one another, the real and the imagined exist side by side in an occasionally terrifying tour-de-force that sees the surreal transform into the real and back. Where  “Demons sit in the dentist’s waiting room, picking the sand from their teeth” and our narrator begins “a new obsession with tape recorders, so I can play my thoughts back every Thursday to the kintsugi club.”
Contingency is everywhere in the poems. Many sections of the poems contain no standard breaks but slashes abound acting as both punctuation and also suggesting that things are otherwise, that they represent an “or”:
‘I am most spectacular in convalescence / of the night sky / when I break the shell / in search
of silence as a plot device / I count the seconds / where the morning has not yet leeched joy’

His abuser is summed up best in the penultimate lines of the poem:
‘You are the weakness
I cradle at night
and the rapid fire
in my lungs,
you are every
locked door
on a hospital ward,’
There are lines with strikethroughs, suggesting erasure and reconsideration. Yet they remain readable. Excised but present. Such devices act as means for Kent to not just say what he wants to say, but also to indicate a not always clear grip upon “reality”. A formally adventurous series of poems, Tertiary Colours is a serious exploration of the lasting impact of trauma – in this case the trauma of having been the victim of sexual abuse. You may not feel better after reading it, but it is not a pamphlet of poetry you are likely to forget in a hurry. -

Aaron Kent, Leaving Ghosts on Pikkutrapp, Smallminded Press, 2016.

'The final poem disintegrates language entirely, pulling words apart and scattering them across the page, leaving it to the reader to puzzle out what is happening. The strangeness and linguistic dislocation makes for a unique reading experience.' - Sabotage Reviews

Leaving Ghosts on Pikkutrapp is a small collection of Nakjarnorkiman poetry (a language contructed from English, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Japanese, and others).


Aaron Kent, Bampy, Hesterglock Press, 2018.

"With this blood-soaked collection detailing the death of fathers spread over sixty years, Kent reaches with deftness into a poetry of inter-generational yearning. As a rhapsodic response to the slaughter that followed the short-lived 1956 Hungarian uprising, Bampy is at once technically astute, inventive, traumatic, eerie and uncompromising. The effect is scintillating. Whilst joining an esteemed Hungarian post-1956 lineage from Márai to Kassák to Szirtes, Kent simultaneously cements his place in a new generation of wildly innovative British poets. Bampy is a memorable calling card." - Daniel Roy Connelly



Aaron Kent, St Day Road, Broken Sleep Books, 2018.

Aaron Kent's St Day Road is the culmination of drafting poetry using a strict 31 point manifesto. 10 poems were written, each specifically about a different room in the house Kent grew up in, St Day Road in Redruth, Cornwall. Kent (as per the rules of the manuscript) has kept every draft, with every note, every instruction and presented them alongside the final poem - providing an intriguing insight into the editing process behind his work.  


Aaron Kent, The Last Hundred, Guillemot Press, 2019.

The Last Hundred is a collaboration between poet Aaron Kent and photographer William Arnold, investigating the West Penwith region of Cornwall.

Living and working in west Cornwall, UK, William Arnold is interested in the layers of history that comprise the making of the landscape and the role played by the photographic surface both literally and metaphorically in recording, interrogating and representing these histories.
The Last Hundred is a limited edition of just 100 copies printed on Mohawk Superfine papers and presented in a specially designed hand-folded envelope.

Nest Fallen – Aaron Kent
Sinking Ship #1– Aaron Kent
Aaron Kent has spoken of how his poems have ‘been known to make people cry – I had 15 people in tears at one gig’. I wouldn’t say they’re all quite that bad, but some in Nest Fallen come pretty close. Many of the problems with the poems in Nest Fallen can be attributed to the fact they are printed, ready for close inspection. There is a problem of place, since many of the poems appear to have been written primarily for performance poetry gigs and then printed without consideration for what might be lost in that process. When these poems are performed, the bounce of the rhythm and a speedy delivery will drag the listener over some of the cracks in the lines. When this force is removed, when the poem is pulled out of the air and fastened down for close attention, the cracks can become gaping holes. Rather than being dragged over, we are dragged right into them.
This is clearly illustrated by ‘Learn to Fly, Dare to Swim’, a laboured list poem of “I want[‘s]” which challenges the reader to finish it, and fails to reward them if they do. The anaphoric “I want” construction affords Kent the opportunity to portray the late-modern “want” ego, located in a consumer society predicated upon the creation of relentless, unlimited desire. This is briefly hinted at but passed up in favour of banalities without incision, humour or elevation. The final two lines in particular make for perplexing reading:
I want a natural ending to this piece, on the ending everything rests,
I want to finish by completing a want, screw it, here’s the vest.
This only begins to make sense when we go online and find that at poetry performances this ending is accompanied by Kent removing his sweater in a flourish to reveal his vest. While this might be a pleasing gimmick on stage, when the poem is transferred to the page without any adjustment the lines simply fall flat and befuddled, an anti-climax to an anti-climax. ‘Grace & Other Virtue’, a long narrative poem about cancer and its effect upon a small family, poses an even greater challenge to the reader’s patience. The poem is riddled with unredeemed cliché (a kiss is “over in a flash”; cancer “reared it’s [sic] ugly head”) and cloying substitutions, such as when Grace
[…] returns home one night,
to see him holding back tears,
upon those salty drops he chokes.
The odd idiom and substitution of “salty drops” for tears would be almost comic if it weren’t for the subject matter, the gravity of which is repeatedly reached for and repeatedly missed. We see this in the forced nature of some of the rhymes, such as
knowing its [sic] useless as he’ll be around a while
to listen with her to every word,
as he beats this disease,
to lose is absurd.
Absurd, perhaps, but not as absurd as the trite rhyme, which turns what might be meant as a heartfelt show of strength into a ghastly sort of comedy. This is at its acutest in the unashamedly melodramatic passage where the pregnant Grace sees her husband die:
Grace makes it in time to see his heart pump one last pump,
she almost collapses but the doctors catch her, just slumped,
and here she realises its [sic] not just seven more months,
but a lifetime she has with his child.
Rather than moving me to tears, this moved me to ask whether Grace had thought a child was just for Christmas. Presumably she had, seeing as it’s just “here”, at this moment of her husband’s death, that she “realises”, so a moment evidently intended to tug at the heart-strings collapses bathetically into what by this point is bordering on self-parody.
Sinking Ship #1 is a work more attuned to the pressures of the page and reads as a more coherently conceived printed collection. As the blurb describes, the pamphlet ‘contains various holes throughout it, enabling readers to see the repetition of a singular word from the final poem throughout’. The poems are thus textually interlaced, certain words echoing throughout, the poems in conversation with one another. The text is a mixture of ‘halogen moon[s]’, self-pity, spirits (both kinds), love, a lot of crying and an attempted twinning of Beat and Internet poetry traditions. There are some good moments, and it is without doubt the stronger of the two pamphlets. For example in ‘Correspondence’ we hear of how
I’ve wasted most tears when I manage
to confuse the scent of discarded cigarettes
with a general yearning for acceptance.
In “manage” we hear the “I’s” own “yearning”, a conscious act rather than the passivity of “confusion”, and in such an act of “manag[ing]”, personal confusion is re-written as desire, a wilful yet communal mistake. This is a delicate moment. Unfortunately it is all the more delicate for its rarity. - Frank Lawton

two poems

Aaron Kent is a poet from Cornwall, UK. His first poetry book – Tertiary Colours: A Post-Traumatic Verse – is available with Eyewear. He has a fond interest in subverting expectations of poetry, and has even gone so far as to create his own language. Aaron collects records, is a Godzilla fanatic, and also runs the Poetic Interviews series where he interviews poets using poetry. Subsequent Death is his first ‘novel’ (Novel? Novella? Verse Novella? Experimental Verse Novella? Whatever).

Jeremy Cooper - Ostensibly a nature diary, chronicling the narrator’s interest in the local flora and fauna and the passing of the seasons, Ash before Oak is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise, and of the narrator’s subsequent recovery through his reengagement with the world around him

Image result for Jeremy Cooper, Ash before Oak,
Jeremy Cooper, Ash before Oak, Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2019.

Ash before Oak is a novel in the form of a fictional journal written by a solitary man on a secluded Somerset estate. Ostensibly a nature diary, chronicling the narrator’s interest in the local flora and fauna and the passing of the seasons, Ash before Oak is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise, and of the narrator’s subsequent recovery through his reengagement with the world around him. Written in prose that is as precise as it is beautiful, winner of the 2018 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, Jeremy Cooper’s first novel in over a decade is a stunning investigation of the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life.

‘Very moving, beautiful and so thoughtful too – a wonderful evocation of animals and birds, sky and Somerset.’— Kate Mosse
Image result for Jeremy Cooper, Kath Trevelyan,

Jeremy Cooper, Kath Trevelyan, Serpent's Tail, 2007.

‘An intriguing and original love story written with an expert eye through the prism of contemporary art.’— Jenny Diski

Kath Trevelyan intends to remain alive until the moment she dies. At seventy-two, she is still a letterpress printer, visiting arts festivals with her daughters and absorbing the richness of the world. Her beloved husband is long dead, and she believes she has had her share of romantic love. Still, her life is filled with beauty: from the splendor of the countryside to the strange innovations of contemporary art. John Garsington feels the same. Though much younger than Kath, he too has a passion for art and work that he loves.

Kath Trevelyan, a 72-year-old widow with 3 grown daughters and 5 grandchildren, "intends to remain alive until the moment she dies." She lives at Parsonage Farm, in the foothills of the Kingsways in Somerset, England, and spends part of each day in her workshop with an ancient Albion printing press—"her joy." After years of "contented widowhood," Kath unexpectedly begins to enjoy the companionship of her neighbor, John Garsington, a retired art dealer 14 years her junior. Over tea or wine they carry on esoteric discussions of British illustrators and engravers and literature they mutually admire; their day trips are embellished with dollops of local British history. Alongside Kath and John's burgeoning relationship, Cooper makes astute observations on the generational interplay between both Kath and her middle daughter, Esther, a frequent visitor, and John and his distressingly pompous and emotionally detached mother. Interjected with thoughts on the meaning of art, the often fragile artistic psyche, and the conundrum of aging, Cooper's engaging third novel challenges the intellect in diverse ways. - Donovan, Deborah

Jeremy Cooper has fashioned quite a lovely book and, perhaps, actress Helen Mirren’s next Oscar-worthy role. Kath Trevelyan, Cooper’s main character, exudes joie de vivre. A vibrant, seventy-two-year-old widow, she remains actively engaged in not only her art (designing and printing unusual, lovingly crafted books) but also communes daily with the bountiful riches of nature found in her rural community, gathering inspiration from her cherished relationships with other artists and neighbors.
A close neighbor, John Garsington, whom Cooper paints with much more subtle strokes, is 14 years younger than Kath but shares her passion for modern art, beautiful handcrafted furniture, and living an unhurried, contemplative life in the English countryside. Although many of the references to architecture, music and art are firmly lodged in recent history, the way Kath and John both live hails back to a slower, more aesthetically pleasing era.
One of the reasons it is easy to picture a film treatment of this story is Cooper’s flowing, visually clear language. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, Kath’s meanderings from her studio, equipped with its antique Albion press into the verdant local countryside -- first for a reflective picnic then pausing to swim undiscovered in a hidden grotto -- reads as naturally as if we experienced the day ourselves. Another outing captures Cothay Manor:
“Seasonal visitors enter through the meadow and begin with the relative wildness of the riverbank and bog garden, before arrival at the head of a clipped yew walk, long and tall, where Kath stops to sit on a stone bench in the shade. The creative intensity and strength of character at Cothay is palpable. She lets Yoko and Don wander on alone, hand-in-hand through gardens built in a progression of secluded rooms and corridors, difference and cohesion the living genius of the place.”
Occasionally John’s comments come off as stilted but do serve to reinforce the reader’s developing mental image of him as somewhat awkward, particularly in his handling of intimate relationships.
“He stops. Pulls with his fingers at his lips, the furrow on the bridge of his nose deepening to the blackness of a stagnant ditch.”
When the neighborly relations between Kath and John seem to develop into something more than friendship, it is by infinitely slow degrees - even totally halted at one point, then refueled by compatible discussions, enjoyable artistic rendezvous, energetic travels, social forays, and, finally, a conscious collaboration on an important Parsonage Press project. The reader gets sudden confirmation of the physical attachment quite a ways into the novel; Cooper avoided giving this aspect of the relationship undue attention, instead using the physical to only reinforce the reader’s sense of Kath and John’s fully developed mental and spiritual closeness.

I found it quite realistic that this December–May romance would blossom without pages of angst over the age difference. Kath accepts life as it comes and admirably opens herself to this unexpected gift of physical affection and mutual dependence once again so many years later in her life. In a rare passage reflecting on their relationship, Kath admits, “I love being here, with you. I’m afraid it’s taken the last drop of my courage to let it happen. I can’t be alone again....” John had obviously worked through any reservations he had during the mysterious break early on in their friendship.
Esther, Kath’s troubled middle daughter, is the most frequent visitor to Kath and John’s idyll. Cooper provides a fine twist to the story by allowing us to learn more about the next generation through Esther: her difficult past, current physical ills, and her hopes for an unexpected happy ending. Through Esther, readers also discover other dimensions of Kath: her married life, her role as a mother, and the obstacles that she has overcome to remain content. It is slightly odd that Kath’s other two daughters and her grandchildren play such a small role in the book, although this is clearly proof of their distant relationships.
Ultimately Cooper’s well-written work rests on the extreme likability of its main character. Readers not only wish for the best for Kath, they want to live out their senior years similarly engaged in their passions: they want to basically become Kath. The perfect metaphor for Kath and John’s entire existence is quoted in Cooper’s work where he describes a book Kath pressed for a dear friend called Other Men’s Flowers. “The title was not his…a quote from Montaigne: ‘I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own.’ ” Kath and John have indeed found that a common love of craftsmanship as well as dedication to the art of producing unique and beautiful works, is more than enough.
“It isn’t easy to describe the spirit with which Kath embarks on the working days in her studio. Habit and familiarity are important – less pedestrian qualities than might be assumed, for they breed a sense of belonging, help the beat of her blood slow, guide the rhythms of the mind into unfettered channels of experience. Kath’s work, although ostensibly by others, is in fact of and from her private self. That’s why it matters.

“There is physicality about the making of any art. Nothing ever is only an idea: it is based on something that has happened, and happens again in another guise as the piece finds its form. The realisation of a concept, a mental construct, is also physical, even when there’s nothing to show on completion of the work.”
Readers will enjoy Cooper’s writing even more if they have a familiarity with English slang, the geography of Somerset, England, important names and works of the contemporary British art scene, and cursory knowledge of antique printing machinery and tomes. Cooper, a trained art historian, worked for Sotheby’s and as a private art consultant before opening his own gallery in Bloomsbury. He is the author of a number of books on art and antiques and has appeared on the popular television program Antiques Roadshow. He has also written for the Sunday Times, Observer and Sunday Telegraph. His other novels - Ruth, Us and The Folded Lie - also received favorable reviews. - Leslie Raith

The appearance of a long quote from W.G. Sebald’s Campo Santo gave me the excuse to read Jeremy Cooper’s new novel Kath Trevelyan (London: Serpent’s Tail 2007). Cooper, an art historian who has worked for Sotheby’s and now, according to his brief book bio, owns a gallery in Bloomsbury, has created a portrait of seventy-something Kath Trevelyan and, to a lesser extent, her rural neighbor and friend John. Kath is a letterpress printer who draws, makes prints, and produces small edition fine press books.For reasons that are often obscure to her and to this reader, Kath is drawn to John, a fifty-something retired London gallerist who is moody and inarticulate about personal relationships. Kath’s daughter Esther also makes frequent appearances, effectively giving Kath a real person to talk to now and then.
The handful of characters that populate Kath Trevelyan lead unhurried, contemplative lives in rural England, with periodic travels around the countryside and into London. They seem to devote a considerable portion of their day observing and appreciating their natural surroundings. In addition, Kath and John live amidst a veritable Antiques Roadshow of objects: treasured collectibles, beautiful books, memory-laden memorabilia, works of art, hand-crafted furniture. Now and then Cooper’s background results in passages that read as if they were snipped from an auction catalog or a museum wall label, but most of the time his descriptive passages are engaging, recalling that other one-time employee of Sotheby’s – Bruce Chatwin. Did I mention that Kath hasn’t owned a television set since her last child moved out, which, by my calculations, is the 1950s?All of this tends to give Kath Trevelyan the aura of a Merchant/Ivory production of an E.M. Forster novel.
The principal plot line is the budding romance between Kath and John, two largely mis-matched people who just may or may not have something to offer the other. After more than 275 pages of Will it happen? and Could it possibly work?, Kath and John are suddenly, without warning or fanfare, in bed. Did we miss something? Apparently so. Oh those Brits, one is tempted to mutter.
Fortunately, Cooper is after something more than nostalgia. By temperament, John has been a devoted follower of the very latest on the London art scene for decades. As a gallery owner he started with artists Gilbert & George, Richard Hamilton, and Hamish Fulton, then kept up with the changing times and he now follows a trend that is decidedly cutting edge. His current passion is Gavin Turk, one of the notorious Young British Artists originally collected and made famous by Charles Saatchi. John has just written a short essay about Turk. This provides Kath with a solution to her late-life crisis. Kath, it seems, has begun to feel that her current project, an expensive limited edition book on the theme of trees, replete with metaphors for longevity and strength, is too conservative. She craves something more “experimental” and, as a cure, proposes to create a kind of anti-book using John’s essay on Gavin Turk. Within the tradition-bound world of collectible fine press editions, this project, which she will finally title Notabook probably does strike an avant guard note, but it doesn’t seem to bridge the huge gap between her world and that of Gavin Turk.
Much of the novel is delightfully observational, rounding out the portraits of Kath, John, and, to a lesser extent, Esther. Cooper is a very visual writer, a skill matched by his difficulty with conversation. Nearly everything that his characters speak comes out a little stilted. Here’s John in a crucial scene, calling on the phone early in the novel to break it all off with Kath:
I’m stopping our contact. We’re too different. It’s for the best. We’ll both be able to get on with things now. You’ve got your book, with William. And I’m writing this article. About the performance art of Gavin Turk. You”ll get over it. Don’t worry. It was a mistake. We can never be proper friends.
The real pleasure of Kath Trevelyan, it seems to me, is being airlifted into a territory where every conversation is literate, where every object is beautiful, and everyone lives at the highest level of alertness to the world around them. Gavin Turk nowithstanding, it’s still Merchant/Ivory-land, but it’s a very pleasant way to spend a few hours.
I mustn’t forget about Sebald, whose writing makes a guest appearance on pages 156-158. As part of the research for her book about trees, Kath reads Campo Santo and quotes a lengthy segment about the forests of Corsica from the prose piece The Alps in the Sea. Curiously, as Kath plots out the text and images that will go in her book, she herself sounds distinctly Sebaldian:
text and image shouldn’t explain, let alone illustrate each other. Maybe enter into a sort of dialogue, reverberating back and forth. (page. 129)
The first edition of Kath Trevelyan is a compact 5 by 7 inch paperback with a cover image by artist Peter Doig, an enigmatic etching called White Out, 1996, which depicts one of his awkwardly formal figures standing in front of a ragged line of trees in winter. - Terry Pitts
Image result for Jeremy Cooper, Women Beware, 2006
Jeremy Cooper, Women Beware, 2006.

Women Beware is a raunchy romp about the careless choices, desperate relationships, selfishness and redemption of a young man in must. The story is driven by lust, depravity, infidelity, fear, guilt, cowardice, love, money, rape, murder and lies.
The hero stumbles upon the seductive power of the smell of a tarry by-product stream from the chemical plant he is working on. It drips onto his shoe with startling results. What an opportunity! How can it all go wrong?

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Jeremy Cooper, The Folded Lie, Ellipsis, 1998.

‘Quite unlike any other novel published this year: a bold, radical, almost embarrassingly direct assault on modern complacencies, both political and artistic.’— Jonathan Coe
‘Complex, thought-provoking and pertinent... A clever, partial book, written in a fluent, comfortable narrative style.’— Financial Times

‘What a really admirable novel. I read The Folded Lie with great pleasure.’— Fay Weldon
The Folded Lie is a timely and perceptive new novel.’— Tony Benn
Image result for Jeremy Cooper, The World Exists to Be Put on a Postcard: Artists' postcards from 1960 to now
Jeremy Cooper, The World Exists to Be Put on a Postcard: Artists' postcards from 1960 to now, Thames & Hudson, 2019.

The postcard as you’ve never seen it before. This appealing book collects the best of these mail-able, miniature works of art by the likes of Yoko Ono and Carl Andre.
The accessibility and familiarity of a postcard makes it an artistic medium rich with potential for subversion, appropriation, or manipulation for political, satirical, revolutionary, or playful intent. The inexpensiveness of production encourages artists to experiment with their design; the only artistic restriction: that it fits through the mailbox slot. Unlike traditional works of art, the postcard requires nothing more than a stamp for it to be seen on the other side of the world. Made of commonplace material, postcards invite handling, asking to be picked up, turned over, and shown to friends―to be included in our lives.
The World Exists to Be Put on a Postcard features postcards, several reproduced at actual size, designed by notable modern and contemporary artists, including Carl Andre, Eleanor Antin, Joseph Beuys, Tacita Dean, Gilbert & George, Richard Hamilton, Susan Hiller, Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono, Dieter Roth, Gavin Turk, Mark Wallinger, Rachel Whiteread, and Hannah Wilke, many of which are published here for the first time. Organized thematically into chapters, such as “Graphic Postcards,” “Political Postcards,” “Portrait Postcards,” and “Composite Postcards,” this book demonstrates the significance of artists’ postcards in contemporary art.

Image result for Jeremy Cooper, Victorian and Edwardian Decor: From the Gothic Revival to Art Nouveau
Jeremy Cooper, Victorian and Edwardian Decor: From the Gothic Revival to Art Nouveau, Abbeville Press, 1987.

Jeremy Cooper has recently given to the British Museum an important collection of artists’ postcards; his book on the subject, The World Exists to be Put on a Postcard, is published by Thames & Hudson. He appeared in the first twenty-four episodes of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, was co-presenter in the early 1980s of Radio 4’s The Week’s Antiques, and is the author of four novels and a number of works of non-fiction on art and design.

Anna-Croissant Rust - a cycle of seventeen stories in which mortality is very much present as a destination, indeed as a character.As the title suggests, this is an experiment in form but even more so in style, and the writer fearlessly employs avant-garde techniques that wouldn’t take hold until well into the 20th century, and maintains a tone of piercing intensity throughout

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Anna-Croissant Rust, Death, Trans. by James J. Conway, Rixdorf Editions, 2018. [1914.]

To the fretful mother of a sick child it comes in the form of the long-awaited doctor. To a feeble old man it arrives as an obliging stranger who helps him to his feet and out through the garden gate. To the hapless workers of an overtaxed factory it is an industrial disaster with a paranormal dimension. Death comes to them all, yet the stories in Anna Croissant-Rust's cycle are charged with life. The ever-changing personification of mortality appears amid scenes of unexpected enchantment, full of light and wonder, of reverence for the mercurial passions of nature. An inventive revival of the medieval danse macabre, DEATH was issued in Germany on the eve of World War One. It is paired here with the author's earlier collection Prose Poems, which fused free verse and fragmentary narrative to create something sublime and entirely original. The intense emotional register and singular style confounded critics when it was first published in 1893, and by the time other writers were producing comparable work in the early 20th century it had been forgotten. This major English-language debut confirms Anna Croissant-Rust as a hugely powerful writer well overdue for recognition.

The Weimar era may be more renowned for German artistic production, but the Wilhelmine era—1890 to 1918—was perhaps a time of even more wildly prolific, path-breaking artistic creation. The Berlin-based publishing house Rixdorf Editions publishes translations only from that era, and its most recent release is Death, a bold work of prose by Anna-Croissant Rust, translated with skill and sensitivity by James Conway.
Widely respected and published in her day, Croissant-Rust is now largely forgotten, even in Germany. Her output varied as much in its style as in its quality, but she is worth remembering as a gifted formal innovator who paired lyricism with a keen sense of structure. She spent her youth and much of her adulthood in Munich, and was an important figure in the Münchner Moderne (a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century artistic movement best known in English for the Blaue Reiter group), and a founding member (the only female member) of the Gesellschaft für modernes Leben (Society for Modern Life), an important literary club that promoted naturalism.
Death is a series of brief vignettes published in 1913 whose main characters all (you guessed it) die. In this volume, Rixdorf has also appended a collection titled Prose Poems, which was published two decades before Death, in 1893. These prose poems are fragmentary and highly emotional pieces that capture the tumult and sublimity of nature. Scenes coalesce in moments of pure lucidity:
         Grey is the sky.
         The little pond looks up at it like an eye glazing over, lacklustre, dull.
(“Autum Days on the Rhine”)
A few snowflakes tumble past the window, forlorn, lost. The white tower of Egern casts a sunlit glance over the lake, its bells begin their shy peal – winter Sunday morning.
These scenes are often driven along by fragmentary exclamations by the narrator, sometimes identifiably female, Croissant-Rust or a doppelgänger, expressing longing or joy or terror. Exclamation points abound:

No more!
Give him back to me!
Do you remember?
No more!
Never? … !
Their effect is meant to be rousing and occasionally it is. Some of the prose poems feature a tragic or supernatural storyline—in “Dream,” she even meets what today we would call zombies (“They had little shrunken hearts in their hands, and held them out to me”). Some aspects of Prose Poems have aged better than others—apostrophes to the seasons and personifications of forces of nature (e.g., a male storm that literally ravages the countryside) require more effort for today’s reader to appreciate. These anthropomorphic elements are used to inject drama into scenes that would otherwise seem impersonal, of too large a scale for human emotion. The most mature prose poem, “Wasteland,” is a carefully balanced tour-de-force of nostalgia, of the attentively observed life of a particular place and people’s relationship to it.
Croissant-Rust’s style is often praised for being unvarnished and forthright, but minimalism it is not. By merely bucking the expectation of female floweriness (sometimes in exchange for melodrama), she seems to have been ascribed an austerity that does not quite fit the reality of her works. Both Death and Prose Poems include many lush descriptions of nature, vertiginous emotional episodes, richly textured depictions of human life, and rapturous praise for the great forces of the universe, be they life and death or the seasons.
Early in her career, Croissant-Rust wrote in the naturalist style, a movement that arose around 1880 and persisted into the twentieth century. Naturalism stood for the precise depiction of human life and the world, often focusing on the grim details of poverty and human suffering. Writing about Croissant-Rust’s naturalism in the context of drama (she was also a playwright), Sarah Colvin notes in Women and German Drama: Playwrights and Their Texts 1860–1945 that the types of themes that were the focus of naturalism were often congruent with women’s domestic lives, elevating female care-taking experiences that once would have been thought unsuitable for literature. Croissant-Rust’s early works followed this mold, and she was sometimes criticized for being excessively negative—here naturalism was a double-edged sword because such negativity was seen as particularly unbecoming for a woman. 
One of the more irritating features of criticism about Croissant-Rust—as pervasive in German as it is in English, in her time as today—is that it often affirms her talent by proclaiming how unlike other women writers she was. Colvin says: “In all cases the woman playwright is seen as the exception to a rule, and specifically as a phenomenon that crosses the bounds of gender. She is therefore in need of explanation or rationalization by critics. The quickest and easiest way to explain away dramatic creativity in women is to cross-assign the writer to the proper, male, gender category: to redefine her as a ‘masculine’ woman.” (Mea culpa: At an event at which I discussed Croissant-Rust with Conway, I heard myself affirm she was “one of the boys.” She was, of course, not; we never are.) In fact, we might easily read the “intensity” or “passion” of Croissant-Rust’s writings as a particularly female access to or mastery of emotion; and as noted above, naturalism opened up high-brow literature to particularly feminine themes, which Croissant-Rust addressed. In other words, her development and output were categorically female; they were also categorically the work of a gifted artist, and in this sense their bare, irreducible achievement is as distant from the sentimentality of “women’s literature” as it is from the chattering hordes of male poseurs whom she outshone. Such work always stands in its own light.
Croissant-Rust later distanced herself from her early naturalistic works, blaming their harshness on the “aura that enveloped all of us at the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties,” which she (paraphrased by Bernhard Setzwein) attributed to the “naturalistic dictates of the time.” As her career progressed toward Expressionism, Croissant-Rust did not exactly abandon naturalistic approaches, but rather blended them with elements that are mythical or romantic. Though the two approaches may seem contradictory, in fact they work hand-in-hand to heighten the emotional effect of Croissant-Rust’s work—the sketches in Death being a perfect example. 
Termed “an expressionistic gem,” Death’s hushed tone makes each story a tiny temple dedicated to the inevitable drama at life’s end. Often comprising only the last moments of each figure’s life, these stories are intense and unflinching spiritual investigations of dying as an experience that unfolds in life. Death is also a portrait of a society—like a medieval dance of death mural, it depicts people of all stations, urban and rural, old and young, male and female. In “Industria,” Croissant-Rust sketches the oppression of the factory floor before an accident: 

The workers in the low, hall-like rooms are bathed in sweat. All day the sun has been beating down on the roof and making them limp, now in the muggy night they drearily drag themselves through the smothering air beneath the weight of sleepless hours. Row upon row of machines. All around there is a dull stomping, a quick thrusting and wheezing, a perpetual up and down of the heavy pistons; the wheels turn with a light whistle, and little lights skip and sparkle from the blinking metal cylinders and rods in the glare of the electric lights.
The atmosphere is as taut as the belt of a whirring machine, and like a machine, it is purposeful. As Bernhard Setzwein notes of her late work, “The stories are no longer bleak depictions from their first line, black on black; instead they slowly build their sense of menace, seducing the reader with an apparently cozy, droll narrative style, which then unavoidably veers toward catastrophe.” Careful, observant depictions of domesticity, poverty, the inner lives of characters, and natural landscapes create a kind of springboard from which the introduction of mythical-spiritual Death (as a beautiful woman or grim reaper, for example) can work its greatest effect; her naturalistic description is like crystal clear water before a gust of otherworldliness sends ripples across the pool. In “The Corn Mother,” a feverish child living on a farm sees death making its way toward her through her everyday surroundings:
Oh, she well knows who is coming wandering through the grain now. The corn mother! Her robe is purest gold and full of glitter and swathed in veils, she looks like a grey and white glittery shadow, says the old nanny, but only Sunday’s child, born with an invisible coronet can see her…She is already quite close. So large and so splendid, her golden hair like a gleaming glow about her head. She bends down toward the sick child who slowly sinks to her knees, bends forward, shivering with fever, but still she tries to look up into the glaring, sharp brightness until her eyes grow tired, so tired, and the little white body sinks into the grain.
In this case, death not only appears in an everyday context; it is of that context, made of the grain that is the family’s livelihood and environment. It is, in effect, the uncanny, in which the familiar is made strange. One of Croissant-Rust’s strengths is how quickly and deftly she builds up this familiar vision of life in each of the vignettes before unsettling it with the strangeness of death.
Conway’s afterword provides much excellent background information on this now-forgotten writer, but unfortunately tends toward the hagiographic. (This is the danger of being publisher and critic at once.) This is regrettable, because his afterword is probably the best overview of Croissant-Rust’s work available in English. Most problematically, Conway makes strong claims about Croissant-Rust’s formal innovations that obscure the genealogy of her writing. On Death: “Anyone unfamiliar with the earlier work might have assumed that Croissant-Rust had taken inspiration from the Expressionists who had arisen in recent years, rather than from herself”—as if, like a cartoon rabbit pulling itself by the ears out of a magician’s hat, she had invented Expressionism avant la lettre, then later inspired herself to take up the style again when it happened to be fashionable. And: “The style to which Prose Poems might have been assigned had not yet been invented”—in fact, prose poetry was a well-mined style being explored by many in her immediate vicinity and their predecessors—Detlev von Liliencron and Otto Julius Bierbaum being two examples.[1]
We can say with fairness that her tremendous technical skill and bold but judicious instincts enriched and matured the genre. Wolfgang Bunzel, whose monograph on the history of the German prose poem dedicates a sub-chapter to Croissant-Rust, identifies her contribution: “Gedichte in Prosa aims entirely at the utmost compression of literary expression, which up to that point had been reserved for poetry. The author carries out a targeted exploration of the terra incognita between verse and short narrative prose.” The adjectives “utmost” and “targeted” are significant here; their restriction is what makes the praise substantive. Innovation is not creation ex nihilo, as much as we love to tell ourselves fairy tales of complete originality; the people we remember as innovators tend to be people who were listening to the discourse of their time and trying to do what all their peers were trying to do—the difference being that innovators make innovation work where others fail. This is why we remember Croissant-Rust as a great writer; she had a raw, unalloyed talent that cannot be entirely correlated to particular achievements or innovations. 

[1] See Wolfgang Bunzel, Das deutschsprachige Prosagedicht: Theorie und Geschichte einer literarischen Gattung der Moderne (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2005); specifically on Croissant-Rust, see 177–188. Bunzel points to the larger historical factors that drove toward a widespread interest in prose poetry at the time: “The fact that naturalism first took note of this area as an untapped borderland owes to the dominance of epigonic Gründerzeitpoetry, which had completely automatized the formal signals of poeticism, particularly devaluing the visual markers that once functioned as the unmistakeable criteria for differentiation between ‘poetry’ and ‘prose.’ This is ultimately why Max Halbe could postulate the existence of a ‘prose poetry’: if it were possible to represent ‘prosaic’ contents in verse form, then there must logically also exist poetry in ‘prose form’” (180). - Amanda DeMarco

I’m accompanying my wife on a work trip to Salt Lake City, and the owner of our AirBNB (charmingly) waited until after we had checked in to notify us by text that the apartment is currently enduring a minor infestation of boxelder bugs. They are slow, ambling things around the size of a lentil; they clump around the outside edges of windows, trying desperately to find a navigable crack in the weatherstripping to escape the three-digit heat of July.
I’ve brought Anna Croissant-Rust’s Death with me, but have instead found myself engrossed in a book from the apartment’s shelf: Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Walker, Turley Jr., and Leonard. Taking cues from the 1950 Juana Brooks study, this 2008 work strives for a definitive, unbiased account of an extremely dark moment in Mormon history; truth-telling as a step toward reparations. Its authors enjoyed the uncommon combination of both unfettered access to the LDS archives and complete editorial independence; they exhibit a care for detail which extends into the realm of engaging a “a rare specialist in transcribing nineteenth-century shorthand” to examine court documents which they suspected were quoted inaccurately in John D. Lee’s 1877 autobiography (written in prison while awaiting his execution).
In the late 1850s, adjacent to the ominous churn of “states’ rights” in the South, a series of escalating conflicts between the theocratic leadership of the Mormon settlement in the Salt Lake Basin and Utah Territory’s federally-appointed administrators had strained tensions to a breaking point. The federal government cut lines of communication to the territory and sent an army westward, the beginnings of what would later be called The Utah War.
Seized by paranoia over the impending conflict and fueled by apocalyptic sermons from Brigham Young and other church leaders, the Mormon settlers in Cedar City were on edge when a California-bound wagon train passed through. The emigrants from Arkansas and Missouri brought bad blood and loose talk; rumors of cattle poisoning carried the situation to a head. Local militias began to discuss extreme measures, unwilling to wait for a dispatched postal rider to return from SLC with further instructions.
John D. Lee, a militia leader, enlisted the nearby Paiutes — thereby providing the needed cover of an “Indian attack” — to ambush the emigrant train outside of town at a grazing waypoint. The emigrants circled the wagons and dug in for a four-day siege, while militiamen from around the district mustered at the site. Finally, under a false promise of clemency, the 120 surrendering men, women, and children of the caravan emerged, unarmed. The Mormons waited until they were stretched into an indefensible line to start firing.
The book opens with an 1857 account by Brevet Major James Henry Carlton, later tasked with traveling from California, across the Mojave desert, to give the bodies a proper burial.
“The scene of the massacre, even at this late day,” he wrote, “was horrible to look upon. Women’s hair in detached locks, and in masses, hung to the sage brushes, and was strewn over the ground in many places. Parts of little children’s dresses, and of female costume, dangled from the shrubbery, or lay scattered about. And among these, here and there, on every hand… there gleamed, bleached white by the weather, the skulls and other bones of those who had suffered.”
I think about this as I accidentally jostle a window frame, and a dozen stupid bugs tumble out into the sill. I ball up a paper towel, and slide it along the track, crushing their frail bodies into one another, before tossing it in the garbage. They don’t compost here.
I’ve been thinking about death a lot. It’s hard not to when you’re carrying around a small, black volume wearing its name. Talismanic, handsome, compact — you can tuck Death snugly into your back pocket as you transfer from the bus to the underground rail. This book arrives courtesy of James J. Conway’s Rixdorf Editions, a young Berlin press dedicated to delivering inaugural English translations of material from the German Empire (1871-1918), showcasing the “unfairly neglected” works of progressive writers, “advocates for female emancipation, sexual minorities, lifestyle reform and utopian visions.”
Croissant-Rust’s writing career began around 1883, when her family relocated to the Shwabing district of Munich. After becoming acquainted with Michael Georg Conrad, in the late 1890s, she became a founding member — and the only female member — of the Gesellschaft für modernes Leben (Society for Modern Living). Together with this group, she worked primarily in the style of Naturalism, which “coincided in time and sentiment with the Modernismo movement in Latin America and Spain, and overlapped with the first phase of Anglo-American Modernism.”
Her works pushed the group further into the avant-garde, freely merging, bending, and breaking traditional poetic and prose forms — into a territory only a few scattered authors in her influence had before. Along with this literary experimentalism, she used her work (plays in particular) to advance women’s causes. When marrying in 1888, she chose to elide her surname with her husband’s, rather than replace it entirely; he supported her writing career, reading drafts and helping to secure publishing.
This book includes not just the titular collection of short stories, but also an earlier volume, Prose Poems, written between 1891 and 1893. Of the two, Prose Poems is the more radical and uneven: both within and between pieces, the style shifts chaotically from lucid paragraphs to unpunctuated abstraction. This earlier work explores the broad splashes of interest which would eventually distill in Death; many include a fascination with states of decay, both in nature and psychology. But we also receive uninhibited forays into female lust, psychedelic wanderings where the natural world melts into the personal interior, and a depiction of a storm overtaking the landscape explicitly rendered as masculine sexual violence — the text splinters into ragged edges which would eventually be sanded down with age into more subtle expressions.
Where Prose Poems succeeds — in haphazard, abbreviated ideas; words tumbling quick like drunk texts — it feels a good half-century ahead of its time. And its occasional contrasting stumbles — in overlong, samey passages once again lusciously painting meadows and streams in thick gouache — serve to highlight the interesting mix of ideas fueling its creation. That it was met with critical befuddlement seems almost a given.
Death was published two decades later, in 1914, as Croissant-Rust was into her 50s, and the Empire was holding its breath before the plunge into The Great War. It is a collection of 17 short stories, circled and jigging in the Danse Macabre. Death might arrive in his spoopy formalwear, a skeletal grin wreathed in black; or as a laughing wave of fire sweeping along the walls of a packed, panicked theater; or silently, invisibly, in terrifying realism, as the body simply ceasing to breathe — but death will always arrive.
With time, Croissant-Rust has folded her experimentalism into a more fluid syntax; though many of her passages still carry the wandering, unexpected flavor and satisfying waviness of poetry. The natural world remains ever-present; even in cities, it saturates the language, twisting up like vines between cobbles, sprouting like lichen on the brickwork; the page swirls alive with the acid nightmares of DeepDream.
Cloud dogs race across the sky in a thick, grey-black pack; the hunt grows wilder, the pack grows larger and darker and thicker until it tumbles over itself in a confused bundle and collapses into black darkness.
“Corn Mother” is the story I kept returning to. Racked with fever, a child watches the stalks wave and bow in the field beyond her window, as the rest of the world dozes silently in the white blaze of a heatwave’s afternoon. Here, Croissant-Rust freely intermingles the spinning flights of childhood with the reader’s growing anxiety at knowing how the story must end; the inescapable brightness of noon provides no cover for either of us, as the Corn Mother arrives haloed and fecund like the Waite-Smith Empress.
Other stories veer into the morbid theatrics of black metal filtered through an early feminist lens. “The Ball” begins with “An elation of violins rid[ing] high on the drunken, giddy pleasure,” as a young belle is carried, in the vortex twirl of the waltz, inverted, to the ceiling. The lights “become suns… sizzle up like snakes, turn cartwheels like peacocks, rush up to the ceiling and tumble back down, red and hissing.” As the dance whirls inevitably into darkness, Death, tonight a gentlemen, thanks the belle “with a little swivel of his chapeau claque.”
“Shadows” is even more explicitly, cruelly allegorical. Returning from an evening out, a young woman becomes entranced by the hypnotic beauty of her own reflection; enveloped in a lust which morphs into self-worship. From the mirror, a pair of glowing eyes breaks the spell with sharp terror. Finally, “small, cowering, pleading, she lies on the floor and struggles with the shadow that casts its great cape around her, burying light, burying youth, burying beauty.”
But death meets others kindly, sweetly; in the overgrown gardens of fading estates; in an unending stream of messages encoded in the language of flowers (which, being unfamiliar with the German manuals of the day, remain, to me, opaque). Here, in “Midday,” the fading mind of a town’s last anachronistic noble flutters backwards to his golden prime, materializing ghosts of his passionate affairs in clouds of fragrant lilac.
Toward the end, a strange turn brings the book’s form into question. An ill wind, the Föhn, blows through three sequential chapters, the only such connection in the book. And as the Föhn’s twisting weirdness circles its unfortunate chosen, it also reaches into the text itself, bending the last two stories unexpectedly into first-person narration. A mother cradles her child in the last moments; tracing scenes from an unlived life in a downpour of impassioned, hallucinatory pleas; And an individual looks back on a night long past, where, in this very room, six children were taken by sickness — the adults who survive them remain broken, racked with guilt and bitter secrecy.
Death is a wild book. It’s wild — structurally, linguistically, sure; in particular, its mix of romantic 19th c. diction (torpor, imperious, etc) twisting into anarchic 20th c. syntax — but what I mean specifically is this: It reminds me of those rare encounters when you’re out for a run in the park, in the morning, and you turn down a path through the trees, and then, suddenly, there’s a coyote right there — You stop, the coyote stops, and you both just freeze, eyes locked, waiting for the moment to break, or something to break the moment, wrapped in a weird communication through mutual silence.
I carried this book around, ignoring it as it tailed behind me; now that I’m finished, it lingers, refusing to settle into finality. Refusing to turn back into the tangle of ferns below the slanting treeline. Instead we stay motionless, each waiting for the other to blink. I keep slipping it into my pocket when I’m heading downtown. - Devin Smith
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