Tag Archives: fiction

A Literary Listen to Chaos & Star Records

Beautiful Children With Pet Foxes: The Single, by Jennifer LoveGrove, Christine Fellows and John K. Samson

Rich & Poor: The Single, by Jacob Wren and Andrew Whiteman

Vinyl Recordings/MP3 Files

Chaos & Star Records/BookThug Inc.

2017

Serious artistic collaboration between writers and musicians has a rich history in North American popular culture, reaching back at least to Jack Kerouac riffing his poetry in a spontaneous call-and-response jazz improv with saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. While that musical partnership served to accentuate an existing text, the goal of BookThug’s new recording imprint is to produce condensed, fresh artistic creations (along with a little commodification) through blending the talents of indie music artists with indie literary writers.

The results are more like “So There”, the B-side to Mercury Rev’s 1993 single, “The Hum Is Coming From Her”. The avant-rockers teamed with poet Robert Creeley to build an amusement park soundscape beneath a flume of Creeley’s wandering words, turning the poem (originally published in 1976) into an entirely new dramatic work.

These two 7-inch singles from Chaos & Star (solid samples from its continuing series) are meant not just to excerpt existing works and touch them up with a soundtrack. Rather, the intention is to grow new self-contained pieces, through a words-and-music-mash-up that creates dynamic meaning in the closed space of a pop song time-limit.

But the most immediate reaction the music will evoke is that it isn’t pop. For example, Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes contains excerpts from LoveGrove’s poetry collection of the same name, set to abstract, ambient sounds that morph the poems into dark lullabies. They will not remind you of John K. Samson’s work with The Weakerthans. The sparse undercurrents feature lightly plucked and bowed strings that gently urge LoveGrove’s slow, deliberate delivery forward, knotting music and words into a series of hypnotic tides; or tapped keys that float through and between the words, buffeting, and occasionally coarsening, the poems.

Rich & Poor moves from sparse, classically influenced music, to a bit of Philip Glass, to industrial stamping that fuels the rage inherent in Jacob Wren’s novel about a man plotting to kill a member of the rich elite in a self-styled revolutionary act. The shift of musical genres paints an aural portrait of class difference, ranging from smooth aesthetics to rhythmic, guttural rage. And that’s just the A-side. The flip plays like an extended remix, one that pumps up the industrial angst while more explicitly underscoring the not-so-simmering anger that is inherent in today’s growing economic divide.

In the playlist ecosystem of the contemporary music industry, the single is king. Similarly, in the information world, the bite-sized chunk is the preferred serving for digestion. Chaos & Star Records isn’t trying to transform literature into a series of playlists or twitter-essays. This format offers a bit of a modern choice for the literary and/or music-minded to consume their art in – even if the vinyl option represents a bit of a hipster throwback.

Flip through the new arrivals here.

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Dusting Off: Love Minus Zero

A delete bin’s worth of autobiographies released over the past decade by ex-punkers who have settled into memoir age hasn’t necessarily made for collective appraisal beyond a garage-tinged look at the sex, drugs, slam-and-roll counter-culture of their youth. Love Minus Zero, Lori Hahnel’s 2008 novel based on her role in Calgary’s first female punk bank, The Virgins, is poignantly different. Set in the late 70s/early 80s First Wave of punk in which fictional all-female Calgary band Misclairo briefly rise, it is a sombre exploration of the personalities that drive counterculture and what happens when the initial energy fades. 

Misclairol and associates quickly experience the smoulder-out of their own movement as it provides the kindling for a more violent and less-inclusive hardcore scene. Subsequent forays into reality and adulthood for the band and scensters means an uncomfortable normalcy for some, or following the nihilism to its logical end for others.

Hahnel’s writing style is suitably punk rock, in the First Wave sense. Rather than an anarchic hack at narrative that draws more attention to technique than substance, she uses straightforward, unadorned prose that, like the music, is all about getting to the throbbing heart of the matter.

Join the pogo here.

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A Read of Kaaterskill Basin Lit Journal (with all the lights on)

​Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal

Issue 1.4 (Fall 2016)

94 pages

Modern horror is less a genre than a feeling: you know what it is when you see or read it, but can’t necessarily describe it (certainly not as traditional eerie suspense). Horror can be a detailed study of the mutability of the flesh – usually into many bloody pieces. It can also be a psychological work, wherein the nature of reality is revealed to be grown from just as delicate tissue as the body. Or a bit of fantasy. Perhaps some speculative fiction as well?

The pages of the Fall 2016 issue of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, wrapped around a horror theme, are full of all, but focused through subtler, more ‘L’iterary lenses. Such as through verse.

Poetry on horror themes can be tricky. One can easily pit-fall into melodramatic goth, or take too much of a staid, serious and lukewarmly academic approach to generate any chills. While the most easily identifiable mode for poetry of a terror-filled kind is narrative that is derived, forevermore, from Edgar Allen Poe, the best poems in Kaaterskill are crafted from short, condensed stanzas and feature modernist, imagistic flavours. (Think William Carlos Williams producing Saw rather than writing Paterson.) For example, Gayane Haroutyunyan’s “Pain” is the quite sharp, literal dissection of an oddly ‘giving’ relationship. Larry D. Thacker’s “Respect”, where “bones in the yard…float up out of the black dirt” is an ode to the buried history of small town secrets, like what you might see if Stephen King had co-written the lyrics to Nebraska.

The short fiction contains much of the mutability aspect. Both “The Creature from Flathead Lake” by Theodore Carter and “Feeding the Fish” by Bron Treanor illustrate the inner transformations of characters through very similar physical mutations, but with different, though equally grotesque, outcomes. There is also the more cut-and-paste (or hack-and-graft) transformation in “Gin Stitches” by Daniel Lynch, which kicks off with the beautifully deadpan and irony-spattered, “Jack has identity issues” and goes wonderfully off the rails from there. 

The horror includes the more fantastical variety, too. “Mute” by Timothy Day is a dark, sci-fi mind-bender that shares space with some of M. John Harrison’s latter work. “Creeley’s Drop” by Ethan Leonard suggests Kathe Koja-edged Alice Munro; that is, an unsentimental portrait of innocence outlined by existential menace and dread. Leonard’s story in particular demonstrates the other strength of this themed-issue: Kaaterskill isn’t simply interested in delivering hardboiled horror. The theme may be raw genre, but the writing is precisely cooked, as Leonard demonstrates via such passages as the beautifully circular:

“It was easy to keep the bottomless pit a secret. Once a person stood at its edge, there was no way to put it in words. The new girls on the track team came to me, in the locker room, and I saw what they’d seen reflected in their eyes, so I started talking.”

Oh, and it makes for a pretty good set of page-turners, too.

Peek over here, if you dare.

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A Read of Fante Bukowski

Fante Bukowski
By Noah Van Sciver
Graphic Novella
80 pgs
Fantagraphics Books
2015

The most direct leap to satire is through the cartoon frame. Take a figurative blowhard, morph him or her into a literal one through exaggeration of specific physical traits, push ’em out et voilà: instant ridicule.

In Fante Bukowski, Noah Van Sciver blows the parodic target of a struggling, self-centered, and self-stylized writer up into a bearded buffoon with all the pretension and faux-suffering accoutrements – albeit a genuinely earnest one who still retains some soul.

Twenty-three year-old would-be poet Fante Bukowski (née Kelly Perkins) presents a figure familiar to anyone who has been driven to pen/pencil and/or typewriter/keyboard by the existential need to express themselves, but with no real idea of what that self is, past a template of their favourite writer. The protagonist here is, obviously, going for the stylized Skidrow Bard image his namesake, the poet Charles Bukowski, created for himself, with a little John Fante-spice on top. However, this Bukowski lacks the actual talent and, having just (perhaps ill-advisedly) quit his dad’s lawfirm, actual experience of living a back-alley existence.

Narcissistic would-be artists aren’t exactly slippery targets. But Van Sciver isn’t interested in barn-broadside shooting practice. His characters, while flaunting the requisite exaggerated traits, and despite being literally two-dimensional in this graphic novella form, also show more depth than stooges in a drawing room farce. Van Sciver is more interested in exploring the growth of the artist figure, rather than in excoriating artists.

“[H]ighly-respected” literary agent Ralph Bigsburg is played partly for pretension but also as an honest (if hyperbolically) exasperated foil for runaway, untamed and untrained enthusiasm. Fante’s new girlfriend, Audrey, is a writer with an actual publication track record and alternative press image (razored-bald head and razor attitude) but reacts to his primitive approach to literary rebellion with delighted amusement rather than scorn. Fante himself, who beer-sweats the same youthful naievte as anyone who has first cracked the spine of a Black Sparrow Press book, is more sympathetic symbol than simple strawman. And Fante’s main barroom companion, an utterly banal example of someone whose simple dreams have let him down, meets an utterly banal but tragic end, in a scene that punctures any pretension and lets the dirty realism whistle sharply in.

As satires go, Fante Bukowski is more gentle Horatian than barking Juvenalian. Van Sciver uses stark, simple drawings and a very earthy colour palette. These subtle tools ease the reader into Fante’s abrupt awakening to a more expansive existence after his failures in the artistic urban jungle quickly grind him down. An ending which marks, perhaps, his real beginning, as both artist and individual.

Read more on Fante Bukowski (and more from Fante Bukowski).

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Reading (A Vandal’s) Confession

Vandal Confession
Mitchell Gauvin
Now or Never Publishing
153 pages
2015

The romance of the road has long entranced the more rebellious side of the North American literati, though the ditch on the side of the post-Beat literary highway is crowded with Jack Kerouac’s poet-hobo descendants, stranded on their own would-be quixotic destinies. So, literally, is Xavier Bernard, the burnt-out-before-his-time narrator of Mitchell Gauvin’s Vandal Confession.

The On the Road echo may be a faint one here, but it is an apt shotgun partner for the reader who meets Xavier in transit with his friend Felix in Felix’s beat-up Jaguar. The pair stalls on a nondescript rural route in a nondescript part of Central Ontario and, to kill time while waiting for a tow, Xavier hands Felix a copy of the autobiographical novel he has been working on, based on his own nondescript life cruising the boundaries of the Greater Toronto Area.

Vandal Confession, though, is actually an anti-road novel. As the post-Gen Xer/pre-Millenial unheroes wait for assistance on the side of the highway, Xavier’s meandering recount of a standard suburban life takes over. In typical Late-Slacker fashion, he is all snark, nicknaming his nondescript residences (his boyhood home, “Slanty McGee”; his later bachelor pad, “Whitey McConcrete”) and casually tossing off interactions with a set of interchangeable directionless friends and hapless authority figures.

Subtle angst riffs with his constant cultural observations. He notes that “[w]hen built, Whitey McConcrete proposed that living further from the ground translated somehow into being worthy and unique. No one foresaw plumbing problems, flooding fountains, elevator malfunctions – the hamsters in their little wheels would go hungry.” He describes his father as “full of movie quotes and recanted scenes, mementos to simplified truths and rewritten familiar stories that were increasingly irrelevant. He thought he was speaking sincerely of sacred teachings and essential social lessons, but watching Rambo never taught anyone life lessons; watching Wall Street never taught anyone how to do business; although watching Crocodile Dundee will teach you why no one likes the 1980s.” 

These observations may not be the stuff of philosophy but serve double-duty: showcasing Xavier’s sitcom-sidebar wit while also turning out the lining of a consciousness nurtured by Friends rather than the literary Canon.

At the lightly-balanced centre of this short book is a tension between creative and destructive impulses. Xavier’s desire to build meaning into his life and give it some sort of direction is evident from the names he’s tagged his homes with, to the fictional liberties that, as Felix points out, glare vividly from various sections of the manuscript. But Xavier can’t quite hide (or doesn’t quite want to hide) a latent impulse to violence that fractures his milquetoast image. Bold acts of arson (the literal vandalism in the book), threats to old acquaintances with firearms, and spray-painting over the truth (the figurative vandalism) are at odds with his placid self-portrait, and start to twist the reader’s perception with what has gone on before.

As a confession, this vandal’s is couched in a compact hymn to early 21st century existential angst rooted in the detritus of pop culture. But this isn’t about the artistic impulse so much as what can coil behind it. Reconciliation comes with a sinister change of tone when Xavier doesn’t smash the mirror but, rather, welcomes another image of himself into his own confession in what seems an ominous acceptance of his darker side.

Which enforces the notion that you should always be wary of who you pick up at the side of the road…

Pull up here.

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More Than Fifty Reads of paperplates

paperplates has been an on-going literary concern for well-over a decade, and has earned esteem above its tag-line of a “A Magazine for Fifty Readers” for a number of reasons, including the scope of its potential appeal. This is not a lowbrow, highbrow, or middlebrow publication, nor one that can be tagged with the limp “general interest”. Each issue just simply contains a range of good reads, whether the pieces are pedagogical, theological or a bit more scatalogical.

The latest issue (vol. 8, no. 2) contains personal essays that are as accessible as, say, those on the Globe and Mail’s Facts & Arguments page, but that also take deeper dives into universal experiences (look at the witty and touching “Brownies or Jazz”). There are short stories that can echo at emotional depths (the upturned immigrant family-focus of “After everything”) or take the piss out of the literary culture itself (the slashing self-parody of “Cutting Edge”). There are poems that meditate with controlled lyrical reflection, while others are soaked in booze as they scrape the grit off the bottom of the ashtray at the end of the night.

Variety + quality provide the gravity here.

Add to the count at:  www.paperplates.org

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Literary Archaeology Pt. 3

A small blog advertising illumination of the outer fringes of literature lies, itself, dark – cobwebbed words – dust in the virtual essence…

…or something like that.

For now, until we get back on track, check out Cirque, Vol. 4. No. 1. It’s a self-described “Literary Journal For the North Pacific Rim”, published by Clock Point Press a-ways up in Anchorage, Alaska. There are stories, non-fiction and reviews, but the poems are the most noteworthy. They are crisply austere and cinched tightly with the kind of short, hard syllables that must reflect the landscape and rhythm of the lives of these poets (mainly Northerners themselves).

The two poems by Doug Blakensop, in particular, seem to have emerged, sharply formed, from the frozen native, soil. Kaija Klauder’s zen vision of winter is like something akin to a Northern Riprap. And there is also a fine, chilled reminiscence by Patrick Lane that shines like diamond ice.

Travel North a while, via http://www.cirquejournal.com 

 

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