Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Year’s Resolution (Part 2)

Further to our New Year’s Resolution to catch up on some reading, we’re into the latest from PigeonBike Press: Gizmo by Rick Stansberger. Gizmo is a quieter affair than some of the more in-your-face work the press is becoming noted for. Stansberger delivers a long, episodic narrative poem built from an album of rural, turn-of-the-twentieth-century characters. He utilizes very loose free verse that is loyal to the moods and dialogue of the characters woven into the poem, rather than any hard and fast, predetermined lyric mode. That may not sound like a revolutionary concept, but underlining the main narrative is an edgier subtext about how technological progress is both an enabler of new wonders and destroyer of what we’ve long held precious. Stansberger’s measured approach makes for a subtly compelling work that only deepens the further you read.

As always, you can grab one at:

http://pigeonbike.blogspot.com/p/pigeonbike-store-buy-print-titles.html

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New Year’s Resolution (Part 1)

Acting on our New Year’s Resolution to catch up on some reading, first up is Fluorescent Stilts For Your Uncle. Despite the new name, Fluorescent is actually the second year of the Epic Rites Press serial Tree Killer Ink, now under the editorial blade of poet Rob Plath. It may be an indie press review by another name, but this magazine is still stropped to a fine edge, with rattling (both sonically and through the use of cudgel-hard imagery) works of poetry like John Sibley Williams’ “Bone” or Plath’s own blood, sweat and blood lyrics. Based on a read of Fluorescent’s first two issues, Plath certainly isn’t trying to smash the frame of this publication so much as tug at the edges and widen the angles, with, say, some fairly substantial prose from the usually stripped-to-the-sinew John Yamrus here, or a bit of trippy surrealist blues from John Macker there. The artwork adds just the right (blackly) comic relief as well.

The continued growth and expansion of this review will be worth watching in 2012.

Only available through subscription, you can catch up yourself at:

http://www.epicrites.org/tree-killer-ink.html 

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A Read of Phillips’ The Underbelly

The Underbelly by Gary Phillips (novel, 152 pages, PM Press)

Part comic noir, part off-the-cuff socio-economic commentary, this short novel by Gary Phillips presents a quick but engaging tour of the dirtier Los Angeles streets and some of the characters who prowl them. The book portrays the city with a hybrid gritty/stylized realism in a slightly skewed, almost out-of-time continuum that seems inspired by Phillips’ background as a graphic novelist.

The vehicle for the journey through the titular underbelly is Magrady, a sometimes homeless Vietnam vet who is struggling against the requisite demons from his past – including flashbacks to the war, substance abuse and guilt for having abandoned his family – and a sudden, more pressing problem. Someone is trying to set Magrady up for the murder of Savoirfaire, a street enforcer with whom Magrady had recently battled while preventing the thug from collecting on a dubious debt owed by one of the vet’s buddies.

The initial confrontation between Magrady and Savoirfaire sets the mood and tone for the book. It takes place in the middle of this anti-heartland: “smack in the middle of L.A.’s Skid Row” as Phillips describes it, which “[u]nlike the street’s more notorious incarnation in Manhattan…didn’t boast of edifices as testament to giddy capitalism”. “The bailout around here,” Phillips notes pulpishly, “was of the cheap whiskey and crack rock variety, the meltdown a daily occurrence.”

Magrady – dry for several months at this point and eager to continue his progress back into the world – sets out to track down the real killer with the tenacity of a Phillip Marlowe. And from here, Underbelly presents Magrady’s struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of society, his family and himself. This is standard stuff, but Phillips’ description of Magrady’s journey, with its simple, but dark, tone, is absorbing. His prose illustrates L.A.’s underground in crisp blacks and whites that are nestled in shades of gray as well. Some scenes could be straight out of a 1970s exploitation flick, but then the present suddenly intrudes in iPhones and Information Age allusions.

The book’s most poignant moment comes when Magrady, having pursued a lead far away from his home base and unable to afford a ride back into town, must spend the night outside, back in the real underbelly. He has to dig out “some greasy and musty clothing tatters” from a cardboard box in an alley and use them “the best he could like blankets” to sleep “under the Sixth Street Bridge with several others.” It’s a point at which he could easily be dragged back under.

But he rises again, dusts himself off and sets back to work, this recent descent only increasing his determination to climb out. And while a mystical flourish near the end of the book seems a tad tacked on, the redemption and resolution a bit rushed, and the character’s tenacity slightly problematic (Magrady’s interior monologues are pretty mundane for someone so conflicted and driven), the dark corners his path takes us into are enough to keep you turning the pages – especially if you like them pulpy – as much as the actual mystery.

Descend into it from: http://www.pmpress.org/content/index.php

 

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A Read of Phillips’ The Underbelly

The Underbelly by Gary Phillips (novel, 152 pages, PM Press)

Part comic noir, part off-the-cuff socio-economic commentary, this short novel by Gary Phillips presents a quick but engaging tour of the dirtier Los Angeles streets and some of the characters who prowl them. The book portrays the city with a hybrid gritty/stylized realism in a slightly skewed, almost out-of-time continuum that seems inspired by Phillips’ background as a graphic novelist.

 

The vehicle for the journey through the titular underbelly is Magrady, a sometimes homeless Vietnam vet who is struggling against the requisite demons from his past – including flashbacks to the war, substance abuse and guilt for having abandoned his family – and a sudden, more pressing problem. Someone is trying to set Magrady up for the murder of Savoirfaire, a street enforcer with whom Magrady had recently battled while preventing the thug from collecting on a dubious debt owed by one of the vet’s buddies.

The initial confrontation between Magrady and Savoirfaire sets the mood and tone for the book. It takes place in the middle of this anti-heartland: “smack in the middle of L.A.’s Skid Row” as Phillips describes it, which “[u]nlike the street’s more notorious incarnation in Manhattan…didn’t boast of edifices as testament to giddy capitalism”. “The bailout around here,” Phillips notes pulpishly, “was of the cheap whiskey and crack rock variety, the meltdown a daily occurrence.”

Magrady – dry for several months at this point and eager to continue his progress back into the world – sets out to track down the real killer with the tenacity of a Phillip Marlowe. And from here, Underbelly presents Magrady’s struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of society, his family and himself. This is standard stuff, but Phillips’ description of Magrady’s journey, with its simple, but dark, tone, is absorbing. His prose illustrates L.A.’s underground in crisp blacks and whites that are nestled in shades of gray as well. Some scenes could be straight out of a 1970s exploitation flick, but then the present suddenly intrudes in iPhones and Information Age allusions.

The book’s most poignant moment comes when Magrady, having pursued a lead far away from his home base and unable to afford a ride back into town, must spend the night outside, back in the real underbelly. He has to dig out “some greasy and musty clothing tatters” from a cardboard box in an alley and use them “the best he could like blankets” to sleep “under the Sixth Street Bridge with several others.” It’s a point at which he could easily be dragged back under.

But he rises again, dusts himself off and sets back to work, this recent descent only increasing his determination to climb out. And while a mystical flourish near the end of the book seems a tad tacked on, the redemption and resolution a bit rushed, and the character’s tenacity slightly problematic (Magrady’s interior monologues are pretty mundane for someone so conflicted and driven), the dark corners his path takes us into are enough to keep you turning the pages – especially if you like them pulpy – as much as the actual mystery.

 

Descend into it from: http://www.pmpress.org/content/index.php

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