homunulus poetic cycle alisa velaj

Poetic Cycle by Alisa Velaj

Dedication

[for lack of the word…; time: midnight]

You have always disturbed my nights, Homunculus,
and I am making no mention of days here,
for you’ll never have the slightest idea what they are.
Both are one and the same to you,
as alike as, say, the sun and the moon…

You thus deeply aggrieved me, Homunculus,
when I spotted that laboratorial halo
in your frail being.

I was a wretch at the time, young man;
too diffident to sniff the scent of my victory.
Nay, I even thought I had lost…

At times, your halo pushed me into doubts
whether I should acknowledge it as such or not.
Anyway, what good are my doubts? What matters now
is but the fact that you are a made-up creature,
threatening to pass your contrivance onto other embryos
ever conceived in fertile, healthy wombs.

This is what scares me, Homun.
This is what I am scared of…

Scent of Linden Blossom

After such a long time,
scent of linden trees on the streets.
Scent of linden!
On occasion, greenery blasts in blossom
                                   when least expected.

I hurry to finish my errands before sunset,
for, afterwards, bats give me the creeps,
running against walls and getting nowhere!

It’s horrible to be robbed of your eyesight, my friend.
Horrible!!!

—————————————————————

P.S:

“Why are you insisting to interrupt me, Homun?
If the scent of linden offends your nose so badly,
farther down, on the right of fall, there are some crags.
There you can sit and wait for your buddies, the bats…”

Laboratory

A lab is a woman, but not a mother, Homun.
In there, songs hit the glass panes like meaningless sounds
and the cuckoo’s call may reach you like a refrain of sirens.

A lab is merely a woman, my dear.
The gestation within a shell’s womb
swells up in skeletal dimensions.

A mother it will never ever become,
as long as its wills be entrusted to the memory of leaves
and infinite blueness be not accepted as the ultimate limit…

A Memory from Two Oak Trees

(instead of a good-morning greeting)

On the trunks of two oak trees up on the mountain,
I and you, Homun, used to carve our names.

You wouldn’t stop laughing at Faust,
while he toiled to engrave our names on stone:
“Go, master Sisyphus, go!” you would cheer.

Today, I am taking a walk on these parts.
Alas, our oaks must have been cut down long ago.
Legible is but a FA in the quarry of sounds…

It Was Your Ultimate Role, Homunculus!

Incense of fire
Incense of fire
Incense of fire
Through breezy fingers
over two guitar strings.

The orchestra begins to heat up
for no good reason…

I don’t dance that dance, Homunculus.
Age-wise, I am a perennial leaf,
and my every effort to arrest the air
is rewarded with phantom flights.

Incense of fire
Incense of fire
Incense of fire
Through breezy fingers
over four guitar strings.

Neither should you dance that dance, Homunculus,
a creature contrived as you are, nought born.
One must love way too much to not perish altogether.

Dancers of your like got scythed by a gust of wind
while, in extasy, they were busy cutting hyacinths.
You are the last one of that dynasty, Homunculus!

Incense of smoke
Incense of smoke
Incense of smoke
The guitar vanished in thin air.

Ah, my son, why wouldn’t you for once listen to me?!
That was your ultimate role toward perfection,
that was your single role…

Requiem to the Exile-Bound Light

(time: 6.59 AM)

Thirst is drying even the shores to the last drop!
Weak of vibe and wing,
the seagull is lost in doomsday thoughts
of her homelands soon to remain but memories.
Vengeful pangs, of a darker purple than sunsets,
command her to silence, prayer, and back to silence.
Amen!

translated from Albanian by ARBEN P. LATIFI

Featured image by Kyle Glenn

Alisa Velaj has been shortlisted for the annual international Erbacce-Press Poetry Award in UK in June 2014. Her works have appeared in more than eighty print and online international magazines, including: Michigan’s Best Emerging Poets (USA), San Diego Poetry Annual (USA), FourW twentyfive Anthology (Australia), The Journal (UK), The Dallas Review (USA), The Linnet’s Wings (UK) The Seventh Quarry (UK), Envoi Magazine (UK) etc etc. Her poems are also translated and published in Hebrew, Swedish, Romanian, French, Bengali and Portuguese. Velaj’s digital chapbook The Wind Foundations, translated by Ukë Zenel Buçpapaj is published by Zany Zygote Review (USA). Alisa Velaj’s poetry book With No Sweat At All will be published by Cervena Barva Press in 2019.

heat lightning martin adams

Bloody Love Letter by Darrell Epp

my poor wife! all i ask of her is telepathy,
maybe some antlers, the ability to eat
glacier and spit out flame. lawyers on
radios say this happens all the time.
still i’m queasy about turning our
backs on the view off catalina. or
even a grub eating a leaf, nazareth
miracles on stained glass windows.
don’t tell the starving children
about the buffet left untouched,
the five-star gourmet dumpster.
skies as plush as a child’s toys,
mountainous clouds tumbling
down barton, farther down a
rust-coloured stain, relentless
as gangrene, and aldermen
building castles out of sand.
the sign says yield but i’m
too stubborn. in a frenzy
like before the evacuation
we take heat lightning
as a sign of the divine.
angels or mirages, go
ahead: surprise me.

 

 

Darrell Epp is a poet living in Ontario, Canada. His poetry has appeared in over 120 magazines on 6 continents. His third collection, Sinners Dance, was published by Mosaic Press in April. Read an interview with Darrell Epp.

 

Featured image by Martin Adams

Photo by Oliver Cole

Midnight in New York by Matt Duggan

I’m not wiping sweat from my forehead
but cobwebs from the metal ferns;
I appear to be drunk on 23rd street
having forgot the name of my hotel again;
I see the scaffolds around famous Chelsea
her velvet claws sticking out
like the hotels sharpened teeth dripping blood
onto fire hydrants and the busy streets below;

I talk with bar-men who speak with two accents
yellow cabs pierce tall smoky traffic queues
I hear a city that never sleeps whisper to me
down blocks of red brick and repetition of basket-ball parks
where the smell of Cinnamon from a Deli drifts
next to an Irish pub cooking fresh chowder—
breathe in the smell and break the chains of morning;
I hear a city that never sleeps whisper to me, it’s time for bed.

Photo by Oliver Cole

Photo by Oliver Cole

Matt Duggan’s poems have appeared in The Journal, Into the Void, Lakeview International Literary Journal, Osiris Poetry Journal. Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015 with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 (erbacce-press) and the Into the Void Poetry Prize in 2016. He has a new chapbook out called A Season in Another World (Thirty West Publishing House) and has just returned from a reading tour along the East Coast of the U.S., including Philadelphia, Boston and New York, where he wrote this poem. 

Follow Matt Duggan on Twitter.

Eric Wilson Profile The Arrival Magazine

It’s Not the Plot, It’s the Voice. An Interview with Eric Wilson by Alex Muller

Eric Wilson Profile The Arrival Magazine
Eric Wilson Headshot by Daniel Ferguson at Sixteen Over Sixth, Winston-Salem, NC

We meet at Tate’s off 4th street. I’m running late, and as I rush from the afternoon sun through the door, the darkness of the bar is almost overwhelming. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the ceiling of string lights, and I find Eric Wilson seated down at the far end of the room, contemplating a glass of bourbon.

He looks like a rockstar, with a black sport coat, t-shirt, jeans, and boots. His hair is high and tight and silver. He looks just like he did when I first met him as a grad student in the Wake Forest University English department. “You know what I loved about being a grad student?” he had asked us during orientation, leaning back in his chair. “The professors didn’t give a shit.”

From that moment on, I was a fan. I read his essays that appeared in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. I devoured his books of creative non-fiction: Everyone Loves a Good Trainwreck, Against Happiness, and Keeping It Fake. In his writing, I quickly found a model for how I, too, wanted to write—an encyclopedic lyricist, but also honest, direct, and kind.

His newest book of fiction, Polaris Ghost, is closer in vision to William Blake, closer in tone to David Lynch, but unmistakably still Eric Wilson, a crafted persona he parodies and ultimately dismembers.

 

[Noted in this interview are Alex Muller (AM) and Eric Wilson (EW). Later, they are joined by a barfly named Will. This interview has been condensed and edited, slightly, for clarity. I’ve mostly removed my own dumbass interjections of “cool,” “that’s interesting,” or “I see.” Occasionally I’ve made notes in brackets, as I did here.]

 

AM: Thanks again for doing this interview.

EW: I’m glad to do it. I like talking about myself

AM: Who doesn’t, right? Well, cheers to you.

EW: Cheers to you too, Alex.

AM: Now what are you drinking again?

EW: It’s a kind of bourbon.It’s called “Bulleit.” It’s called—embarrassingly—it’s called “the frontier whiskey” because the bottle looks like it might have come off the Deadwood set. And it’s not spelled “bullet” like you would expect—it’s b-u-l-l-e-i-t. [Laughs]

AM: Oh, I gotcha. That’s good. I would have spelled it the plebeian way.

 

EW: Of course when I think of bullet, I don’t think of the bourbon but of the great Steve McQueen film. [Spelled Bullitt, interestingly enough]. It came out in like 1967, when McQueen was at the height of his cool. He plays this kind of world-weary, melancholy, nihilistic cop who is offered the luscious love of Jacqueline Bisset. But all he cares about is his bullets. [Laughs] It’s like if Camus wrote cop films. That’s what this would be.

 

AM: Yeah, so I’m kind of a film novice, but I have been on a pretty big Lynch kick recently. One of the parallels that’s been drawn between Polaris Ghost and Lynch is Blue Velvet, which maybe we can talk about in a moment, but a couple of the Lynch films I’ve checked out recently have been Dune and The Art Life. So I’m interested in connecting to—well, maybe not Dune. But definitely The Art Life. Your postscript in Polaris Ghost refers to that book, which influenced Lynch and gave him the title for that documentary.

 

EW: So for my postscript, I made up a quote from the guy who wrote The Art Life—whose name I can’t remember at this point. But I thought it would be interesting because my epigraph was from Blake’s art teacher, Basire, which I also made up! But in doing so, I’m following the lead of Edgar Allan Poe, who more than once made up an epigraph attributed to someone real. I just love that idea of creating a kind of fake authority.

 

The book has what I would call a kind of gnostic sensibility, meaning it’s very much pushing against any kind of oppressive thought system. And to me, the most oppressive idea in the West is the idea of a cogent, unified, autonomous self. So the book’s interested in exploring a self as irreducibly fragmented. There’s this idea that there are authorities who pass down knowledge to individuals that shape them. I was just trying to play around with that by making up these fake authorities. And they’re kind of inside jokes because I doubt really anyone would know, which is the same as Poe—no one knows.

 

So, The Art Life is interesting. I did look at it at some point, even though I don’t remember the author’s name. It’s almost like a self-help book. It’s like a collection of aphorisms with this kind of “aw shucks” American spirit. It’s like if Emerson crossed with Norman Vincent Peale wrote an art book, that’s what it would be. “Get up and go today, boy! Atta boy!” Which is very Lynchian, you know. As Mel Brooks said, Lynch is Jimmy Stewart from Mars, so Lynch himself is always saying things like “golly gee” and “gee whiz!”

 

But that’s what makes him so weird, right? Because he’s this avant-garde filmmaker, but he comes across as if he’s still living in 1956 Montana. And in his publicity line, he often writes “Eagle Scout: Missoula, Montana.” As if those are the most salient facts about him.

 

AM: That’s true. As if it’s like his MFA program or something.

 

EW: But that’s what’s so cool about Lynch to me, because in his film and in his persona I never know if I should be serious or laugh.

 

AM: I think that’s interesting in the context of your work as well. You know, I’ve read what I call the Eric Wilson Trilogy, starting with Against Happiness, then Everybody Loves a Good Trainwreck, and Keeping It Fake.

 

So, one thing I was surprised to find in Polaris Ghost was the subject of grace. You write about grace pretty extensively in your other work. But fairly early on in Polaris Ghost you have a father telling his daughter, “This is grace. It’s a stroke of luck that saves you from dying.” And when I read that, I was kind of taken aback because I didn’t expect grace to come up here. After finishing that chapter, I wasn’t sure how seriously to take it—if it was a sincere form of grace or something else.

I wonder for you how grace factors into this work.

WIlliam Blake Portrait by Eric Wilson
Portrait of William Blake by Eric Wilson, oil pastel on paper

 

EW: Okay, good. That’s great. So, I guess I’ll start with what I would call “serious grace.” Now, really that comes out of my reading of Blake. In my book My Business Is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing, and also in my memoir The Mercy of Eternity: A Memoir of Depression and Grace, I see grace in a pretty traditional way. If justice is a world of cause and effect, grace—connected to mercy—kind of breaks that up.

 

It connects to that great moment late in King Lear when Lear sees Cordelia. He kind of gains his senses for a second and says to her, basically, “You have much cause to hate me.” And she says, “No cause, no cause,” which just captures beautifully this idea that mercy and grace push against causality. And in a way, therefore, break the idea of temporality entirely.

 

AM: So it’s kind of gnostic in that sense, then, like you said before.

 

EW: Yes! And I would even go further and I would connect it to—well, kind of a darker version of this: If you read Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” he’s constantly using the infinitive. It’s like he won’t conjugate a verb. And Keats does this at the beginning of “To Autumn.” So, the infinitive, it’s like a verb not yet tensed, and it suggests a kind of infinity, and I feel that’s kind of what grace does. It lifts us up to infinity, to this state of pure potentiality, where you’re not yet tensed into past, present, or future.

 

AM: I’m wondering if the openness of the text would kind of be a form of grace itself—this kind of splitting of this Polaris figure and these fragmented identities.

 

EW: I think it’s a very sophisticated understanding of the book that I myself didn’t even imagine, but I’m thinking of it now.

 

I saw the fragmentation more as a kind of self alienated from itself, and therefore in despair. But I like to think—there are these moments of vision in the book—let me back up.

 

One of my favorite films is Last Days, directed by Gus Van Sant. And it’s about the last days of Kurt Cobain—loosely. It’s a film about all these 20ish-year-old people who are totally disoriented—

 

[At this point, a young man a few chairs over from us at the bar interjects. He introduces himself as Will]

 

Will: Excuse me, you guys are talking about writing. Do you mind if I just sit here and listen? I’m having a hard time hearing you from my seat over here and it sounds very interesting.

 

[We introduce ourselves and catch him up on the conversation, The Arrival, Polaris Ghost. One of my favorite Modest Mouse songs starts playing in the background].

 

EW: So, all of these alienated, despairing 20-year-olds, one of whom is the Kurt Cobain character, are totally disconnected from anything significant. But then, occasionally, you hear this weird ambient sound of chimes ringing, or trains, or children singing. No one else hears it. It’s like this other realm that no one else gets—and this movement is a soundscape symphony called The Doors of Perception.

 

Only at the very end, when the Kurt Cobain character is getting ready to walk into the greenhouse to commit suicide, he turns around as if he hears the chimes. It’s like this visionary world that just floats above this world of fragmentation.

 

So there are moments in Polaris Ghost where I discuss moments of polar discovery, and those are meant to be those moments of this world of unity and light that Polaris isn’t getting. So I like the idea that the fragmentation, like in Eliot’s The Wasteland, suggests a panorama of futility, but also there’s the possibility that the very breaking up of self opens up the possibility of a reformation of something new.

 

AM: Yeah, in Ben Lerner’s work he connects it to Giorgio Agamben’s idea of “the coming community,” where, like you’re saying, there’s this hovering world, almost the sublime hovering world, that’s superimposed over our own. And these glimpses where we see how they come together are both fragmented and unifying.

 

EW: I mean, it’s a very Christian idea. That only by having the body ripped apart can the spirit thrive. It has a long history, and a pre-Christian history—you have the descent into hell with Odysseus—that only when you go down into the darkness and become dismembered—like Odysseus, like Dionysus also, and Yeats says it too—something has to be torn and rent before it can become whole.

 

AM: I’m wondering too—at first in my mind this was an unrelated question, but now I’m wondering if it’s related. [I turn to Will]. This is a total spoiler alert—are you into Twin Peaks at all, Will?

 

Will: Is a fish—uh, YES!

 

EW: As a fish takes to water, you take to David Lynch?

 

Will: Well, the new stuff gave me too much of an existential crisis in the first three episodes for me to continue, but I plan to go back to it in about six months.

 

AM: That’s understandable. Well, don’t listen to this question because it’s one of the final scenes—

 

[Will sticks his fingers in his ears].

 

That last scene in the new season, the scream. I’m wondering about that moment of utter anguish, where this character has become two different identities, and there’s this scream that’s both kind of a moment of realization and unity, of things coming together, but also total disparity—and despair.

 

I was wondering about the scream in that moment, possibly in connection to the idea of being ripped apart, and also in the very end of your book, when the husband who’s become a boar is coming back to himself and making this animal sound—or trying to—and that incredible last line: “if anyone could have heard it, it would have been a sound that was almost human.”

Gloria Swanson Sunset Blvd by Eric Wilson
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BLVD. Eric Wilson, oil pastel on paper

EW: So, one of the reasons Lynch likes crying so much in his films and in Twin Peaks—you know the Pilot, everybody’s constantly weeping—weeping for Lynch is a bit like screaming. It’s like a pre-linguistic or an alinguistic expression of a powerful emotion. And I think one of the reasons Lynch is so skeptical of language, both in his films and in person, is that he has the sense that language is always abstraction. It always removes us from an experience. The minute you can talk about something, you’re not that something anymore.

 

So I think that in some ways that scream at the end has that same power. On the one hand, it’s horrifying. It’s terror. But on the other hand, there’s a sense of breakage in normal ways of making sense of the world through language. So there could be a sense of something-else-ness that comes with the scream, that can often come with the crying. I mean, it goes back in some ways to Lynch’s interest in surrealism and Dadaism, this idea that meaninglessness has a kind of power. Because if meaning is always linguistic, it’s somewhat oppressive. So meaninglessness can be liberating in some cases—screaming, crying.

I guess that’s what I’d say about that right now, but I think it does have that duplicity you’re talking about. It’s horrible, but it does suggest there’s something else beyond our normal ways of making sense of the world.

 

I would say that the experimental qualities of Polaris Ghost—I think it reads clearly from page to page, but overall it’s quite enigmatic in ways that I’m not sure I can explain. And I don’t really care because I was really suspicious of “meaning,” you know, theme and motif, symbol and allegory. And that’s one reason I got so interested in fairy tales—the book has these seven weird kind of fairy tales.

 

Fairy tales are these vehicles of very traditional meaning or morality, and I wanted to set up the expectation that “this is a fairy tale, there’s going to be some greater meaning,” and then in the end there’s nothing at all.

 

But there’s a difference between confusion and ambiguity. Confusion’s when you see a movie or read a work of literature and you’re like, “What the fuck is that?” And you’re ready to walk out. Whereas ambiguity, to me, suggests lots of potential meanings, but you can’t quite get to them.

 

AM: We’ve talked a lot about fragmentation, but when I read this book, having read some of your previous work, it feels so cohesive in certain ways—in the sense, perhaps, that this is the book that you were always coming to. This is the book that was always on the tip of your tongue before. Is that something you thought about as you were writing it?

 

EW: Yes. Very much so. Well you know, you’ve read my philosophical essays and what you call my trilogy, which is a very flattering thing to say. Were you at Wake when Brian Evenson read?

 

AM: Yes.

 

EW: So that was a fucking watershed moment. It really was a huge moment. So, I heard the reading, and he read this story about the two girls who both experience the absence of the parents in radically different ways. And I just thought, “Wow.” It’s like he’s going into an ordinary situation of childhood sadness, but going into it and describing it in such a way that feels like a fairy tale from 3000 years ago. And then of course he read that story about the woman fucking the mime. [Laughs]

Godzilla Eric Wilson Interview
Godzilla by Eric Wilson, oil pastel on paper

So I immediately got the book Fugue State and I read it. And it opened something in me. I was like, “Fuck. You can write fiction that way?” I mean, I know Kafka did it, but. So, I immediately wrote what became the boar story, like three days after Brian Evenson read. And then I wrote the first two stories, the one about the boy wanting to see the dead boy and the one about the boy finding the dead cat, or the dead things under his bed. It just came.

 

And I just thought, yes. This is what I’ve been wanting to write, and I’ve been afraid. I’ve been hiding behind ideas and theories and nonfiction. And those are fine books and all, but I really felt like something was released. I felt like I was born [Laughs] to write Polaris Ghost.

 

I mean, not all of it came so easily. But Hawthorne said of The Scarlet Letter, “I more and more came to see the writing of that book as a form of music.” And he said, “All I had to do was get in the right key and I could write forever.” In other words, it’s not the plot, it’s the voice. And I kind of felt that way about Polaris Ghost, with the kind of deadpan voice in the fairy tales. I felt like I could write forever, like 1000 pages in that voice. It just felt so right.

 

So, in some ways, I feel like Polaris Ghost is my very first book. [Laughs] My first real book.

 

AM: I love that idea of music. I was also interested in the voice you adopted—and kind of crafted—in these stories. There’s several voices, but the two that I’m most interested are the kind of straightforward fairy tale voice—“I am doing this, we will do this, and then we will do that”—and the other is almost like an inversion. And that comes through a lot with Ella, where you get all these introductory clauses that lead up to the final meaning of the sentence. But by the time you get there, you’ve almost lost the train of thought.

 

And I’m wondering, to come back to your previous point on the infinitive and the infinite, if that inversion is a play on that?

 

EW: Well, it wasn’t consciously, but I think in terms of these voices that makes sense. What’s appealing to me about what I’m calling the “fairy tale” world is that there’s this sentence to sentence simplicity and clarity, where I know exactly what that says and exactly what that says. And then where you get to the end—if it’s an interesting fairy tale—you’re like, “What the fuck?”

 

So that voice was more declarative. And I was going for a more deadpan, meaning removed, as if it’s a kind of folkloric voice. As in, I might be telling this story around a fire or something, but it’s not about my subjectivity. It’s more about me voicing the story.

 

Now, the Ella voice is a much more lush, lyrical voice that I wanted to suggest. Well, Emily Dickinson was really behind that: “I dwell in Possibility— / A fairer House than Prose—” And Dickinson’s idea that the poetic pushes against the prosaic. So, I wanted Ella’s voice to be lyrical and almost inscrutable.

 

And so, whereas the fairy tales are paratactical—“I did this, and I did that,” etc.—the Ella stories are more hypotactical—“Although she did that, he did that.” They’re more dependent on that subordination where you can lose the meaning. But it’s less about the meaning and more of a reverberation, like you only get the meanings as they kind of echo after you’re done with the sentence.

 

AM: Because of that effect with the language, it forced me to go back and re-read, especially at the end of certain chapters. I would get to the end and then have to go back to find where I had lost what was happening.

 

So, this was one of the many senses of doubling, for me as a reader, where you have both the expectation of what you’ve read and the reality of what the text says on the page.

 

To give you an example of that, one of the coolest moments for me was at your book release back in March, at Bookmarks. And you read one of the first pieces I had read from this book, the chapter “Oddity.” I had originally read it when you shared it on Facebook, so as you were reading in the bookstore, I was grinning like an idiot, following along with my memory of where the story was going. But by the time you had gotten to the ending, I felt like there used to be more to the story.

 

So, you have all these examples of women throwing jewelry—rings, necklaces—I was almost positive the earlier draft brought in Laura Palmer throwing her locket in Fire Walk With Me. Was that ever part of it?

 

EW: Wow. No, but now I wish it was. I think it definitely connects, but no, it was never in there.

 

AM: Well now the mystery is solved.

 

[At this point, Will brings up how the locket in Fire Walk With Me is depicted differently than it was originally in Twin Peaks, and we talk about how David Foster Wallace was one of the few who had praised the film, specifically for its redemptive representation of Laura Palmer’s subjectivity.]

 

AM: Well, to come back to Lynch. One of my favorite moments from The Art Life is when he describes bringing his father down into his basement, where he was keeping all these jars of bugs and just kind of grotesque experiments. He was so excited, for whatever reason, to show them to his father. And as they’re coming back up the stairs, his dad says to him, “David. Don’t ever have children.” [Laughs]

 

I can appreciate that moment, where your family is legitimately concerned because of these things that you’re creating. That anxiety shows up throughout Lynch’s work—probably greatest with Leland and Laura Palmer—and I wonder how you feel about that with your own work.

 

You’ve written a lot about your daughter in the past, and she appears in this book as well, although somewhat transmuted. So, on some level she’s your daughter, but she’s also an element of your psyche—as is the wife, as are the other characters throughout the book. And I’m not trying to conflate you with the narrators, but I wonder what it’s like to write about your daughter.

 

EW: Not that one should engage in biographical criticism, because we totally shouldn’t, but yeah, I guess that fear in Polaris Ghost came from a fear of losing my daughter. You know, my marriage was falling apart, and I was afraid that I would lose my daughter.

 

But the book is also very much about the loss of innocence, almost in a Lynchian sense, and also a desire for innocence, a desire for pure possibility separate from cause and effect. And separate, in a way, from time itself.

 

But there’s also this idea that the daughter is a kind of sign of innocence, if innocence is pure possibility. So to lose one’s child—there’s the pain of losing the child, but it also symbolizes a loss of something deep within the self, the sense of possibility. And without possibility, where are we? In Hell. As Dante says, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” and what is hope but possibility?

Eric Wilson Interview Arrival Magazine
Eric Wilson Portrait by Daniel Ferguson at Sixteen Over Sixth, Winston-Salem, NC

The Unending Stasis of Amnesia by Peter V Dugan

new nation

Art: Chuck Giezentanner

 

 

1) Breaking News

Like a programmed automaton

              he lurks on the sidelines

just another face

              hidden in the crowd.

 

He waits with the patience

              of a lioness, selects his prey

                          with calculating craft.

 

Polished gray gun-metal gleams

              under the streetlight.

 

Brass shell casings hit the pavement,

              tinkle like bells

                          sound a death knell

as youth and potential

                                          are lost

shooting stars that lit the sky

                          slaughtered

no chance

              to fulfill their dreams.

 

The shooter leaves his mark

            a massive body count,

                          numbers remain unfinished.

 

Maybe tomorrow they’ll know more.

 

2) Repetition of Ritual

Mourners howl and say Kaddish

              members of a lost tribe

emerge from the shadows

              gather to raise voices

in contempt at being condemned

              by unintended consequences

as fingers reach to the sky

              stretch for more sun

                          and pray.

 

Imagination runs with consciousness,

              recedes in a magical retreat,

spins a yarn of facts

              curled

like a coital knot of snakes

twisted,

              turned

                          and contorted.

 

The string of lies tangled

              with knots of truth

to form an obvious enigmatic solution,

              somewhere

on a one-way street intersecting

              nowhere.

 

3) Return to Scheduled Program

Footprints and echoes,

              giant imprints of the past

form a foundation that’s fragile

              and struggles to defeat

                          the odds.

 

Sweet sounds of life fill the air

              sheep bleat,

                          content

to feed on tufts of grass.

Infestation, a short story by William Beeker

It was tax season, and I was rifling through papers on my desk looking for an important receipt, when I remembered that I had recently thrown it away. I stood over the wastebasket in my bedroom, internally debating the importance of the receipt. There were crumpled napkins, rotting banana peels, and clumps of wet coffee grounds lying on top of the collected trash heap. As I peered into it, I noticed little things shifting around in there like grains of sand sliding and falling. One of the grains suddenly leapt to the rim, then the wall, and drifted lazily up to my face. It was a fruit fly. The bin was filled with them, and the longer I looked, the more I saw. I recoiled, stepping backwards toward my closet and noticed them in my hanging shirts.

I immediately drew the red bands around the rim of the trash bag to cinch it shut and carried it to the street. The flies seemed to disappear, but after a few days the trash can was filled up once again, and once again the tiny, slow flies descended. It occurred to me that they had never left; they had only hid in wait for more food. Perhaps hid is too much. They had probably scattered into the carpet and the curtains, making them difficult to spot, me having not expected them to survive anywhere but a trash heap.

Killing them individually was easy but tedious. They were slow, gorged on my offerings, and I could extend an open hand and snatch them out of the air. But there were too many, and they were too difficult to see to exterminate absolutely. Always, it seemed, there remained at least one male and one female who immediately repopulated the flock, and so no matter how many I killed, they would reappear in greater numbers, more evolved, learning my ways through legends from their elders, communicated in silent buzzing and the rubbing of legs together. I realized there was no way for me to get rid of them as long as there was trash for them to eat, so I stopped feeding them.

In general I starved myself, but when I did splurge my appetite on an apple or banana, I made sure not to leave any waste. I ate the cores and chewed the peels. Initially I would gag on the rubbery peels, tart from pesticides, but I started grilling them with salt. I’d coat peach pits in oil and suck on them like jawbreakers until they were soft enough to chew. I’d crush up eggshells and sprinkle them in my coffee. I ate like an Indian, leaving absolutely nothing to waste. This way of eating was disgusting to me, so more often than not I would eat foods that left no edible waste: packaged foods, artificial foods. But I grew sick of these substitutes and opted more and more for starving myself.

They started dropping like flies do, and I swept their corpses from my desk with a light flick of my wrist. Dozens, then hundreds died off in starvation. I towered over their bodies, my lean frame and angular face swaying slightly under the dizzying influence of malnourishment. Eventually they all died off, and I brushed their many bodies into the trashcan they had once lived in. But I couldn’t collect all of them. There were too many, and they were too small to get every last one.

A day or two after I started eating again, cockroaches crawled out of the walls and up from under the carpet to feast on the dead fruit flies. They’d crawl in groups out of corners where the walling didn’t quite come together or out from drains or simply from under the carpet, beneath which I now realized lived an entire colony of scuttling black roaches busy with the tasks of survival. By killing off the flies, I had supplied them with a week’s worth of food. Their colony could grow and expand because of this unexpected surplus, and they grew comfortable in my room. There were no overhead lights, only a feeble lamp at the corner of my desk. They grew audacious, crawling freely over my bare feet, burrowing in my dirty clothes, and biting me in my sleep. They brought in disease and made me sick. I went to work with red bumps all over my face and hands. My boss told me to stop coming to work until I could properly maintain my hygiene. I stopped paying my rent, furious at the landlord for allowing such an infestation to persist. He sent someone to spray my apartment with roach-killer, but the man insisted that I rearrange my entire apartment for his sake. He demanded that every piece of furniture be moved three feet from every wall. Every utensil in the kitchen should be saran-wrapped and placed on a table at least three feet from every wall. All blankets, sheets, clothes should be placed in sealed boxes and the boxes placed at least three feet from every wall. I had neither saran-wrap nor sealable boxes, and I threw up my hands in exasperation at the exterminator. He told me to reschedule the appointment when this was done. I slammed the door in his face and fumed over his demands. I would never reschedule with him. Never. What kind of world is this, I asked myself, where so many petty conditions and rules can prevent someone from being pulled up out of the shit? I refused to pay rent but could not communicate to the landlord why the exterminator was of no help. He threatened me with eviction, so I grew used to the cockroaches. I no longer panicked in the shower when they’d come up from the drain. I casually shook them out of my dirty clothes when I‘d get dressed. If they crawled over my food, I no longer threw it out. I resigned to my fate. At around this time I had started eating again and leaving food waste in the trashcan, which allowed the fruit flies to return. The more flies that came, the more the roaches proliferated. The flies fed on my waste, and the roaches fed on my flies. There was no way out of this loop, I assure you.

Then the IRS audited me for failing to provide an important receipt. I didn’t fight them. Before they could seize my belongings, I was evicted by that tetchy landlord and sent out on the street. I left my belongings for the IRS to take. Let them see the conditions I survived under. Let them take my roaches and my flies. Let them be caught in my horrible loop. I’ll be laughing outside their windows, a vagrant, no longer defending humanity from infestation. I am on the streets now, but I will survive here because I learned to eat trash when I still had a home.

 

 

Will Beeker is a screenwriter from Michigan now living in Los Angeles. Formerly a contributing editor at VVV Magazine, he is a Columbia College of Chicago alumnus where he graduated with a B.A. in Film & Video. He was a finalist for the Nicholl’s Fellowship and reads scripts for the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. He currently works in the comedy department at Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

A Day with Death, a short screenplay by William Beeker

Note from the Editor:

For the uninitiated, the following is a short screenplay, a sort of blueprint for a finished film. While typically used as a stepping stone for a finished product, I believe the medium is an artform in its own right and should be appreciated as such. Thanks, and enjoy!

– Nicholas Olson, Managing Editor

Will Beeker is a screenwriter from Michigan now living in Los Angeles. Formerly a contributing editor at VVV Magazine, he is a Columbia College of Chicago alumnus where he graduated with a B.A. in Film & Video. He was a finalist for the Nicholl’s Fellowship and reads scripts for the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. He currently works in the comedy department at Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Photograph by Marianne Mather.

An Interview with Joe Meno by Nicholas Olson

I recently got the chance to speak with Joe Meno, acclaimed writer of close to a dozen books, several plays, and a multitude of short stories. Winner of the Nelson Algren Award in 2003 and finalist for the prestigious Story Prize in 2009, he currently teaches fiction at Columbia College Chicago, where he himself once went to school. We chatted fiction, film, and the future of storytelling, among many other things.

 

Nicholas Olson: You’ve written plays, short stories, novels, and last year you even wrote a novella that was released in seven parts online at Electric Literature. What’s next for you?

Joe Meno: Well first of all, thanks for taking the time, Nick. I appreciate it. Yeah, as you noted, I had the privilege to be able to write in a lot of different forms and experiment with a lot of different kinds of media in narrative, so right now I’m actually working on a book-length work of nonfiction that deals with these two immigrants from Ghana who went on this harrowing journey starting in South America traveling out through Central America into the States and then ultimately into Canada. And yeah, it’s going to be kind of novelistic in scope, but it’s based on these two men and their actual life experience.

NO: Very cool. So we share the same alma mater, Columbia College Chicago, and I wanted to know: What was it about the program there that first attracted you and then brought you back as a professor?

JM: I think that’s a great question. Well, you know, I had gone through a state school in undergraduate at University of Illinois down in Champaign, and I knew when I went off to college I wanted to write. I didn’t know what form that was going to take, and so I took a lot of film classes. And at the time, and still currently, Champaign-Urbana is not the hotbed of the film industry. [laughs] And so I took as many writing classes too as possible, and I just felt like I was putting myself through school, and I just didn’t feel like I was getting that basic knowledge and feedback that I really wanted, and I didn’t feel like I was getting exposed to a lot of different kinds of writing. And so yeah, I heard about this program at Columbia College. At the time, there was an entire department devoted solely to fiction writing, which was really rare and totally uncommon. And so I did some research and saw that they were really oriented towards process, and they had like 50 different creative writing classes, which is totally, again, really uncommon. Most writing programs have like six [laughs] creative writing courses. And so yeah. I went and visited, and I decided to transfer there, and I finished my undergrad. I loved the program so much I decided to then go back and get my Master’s. And while I was there, I was really fortunate to start teaching as a graduate student. And so I’ll be honest, Nick, at the time I thought you can either devote yourself wholly to writing or you can devote yourself to being a great teacher. I did not think you could do both. And what I found is that they feed each other and complement each other perfectly, and that being able as a writer to be connected in these conversations about writing and seeing what people are attempting with their writing, for me it’s been just this amazing honor, and I really take it seriously, and I feel like the best writers that I’m ever reading are the ones in my classes. You know, they take huge risks and try to push the boundaries with character and language and form. And so since then, well back in the ‘90s, so twenty-some years later now, we have this amazing, very developed creative writing program that gives students the opportunity to experiment with fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, we have an amazing foundations class where students move from taking exciting fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and then there’s workshops, we have a class that looks at graphic novels. And so all the things that I originally loved about the program, ultimately as a professor I’m still able to get students excited about, and incorporating different developments in narrative over the time that I’ve been a writer.

NO: And that’s great, I think, that you bring up experimenting and pushing boundaries, because I was going to say that in both the way that you structure your stories and in the forms that they take themselves, it really seems like you enjoy pushing the boundaries of fiction yourself. So I wanted to ask you: What do you think the next frontier for fiction is?

JM: That’s a great question. Well it’s interesting, I feel like as a writer and an artist, you are setting these constraints up for yourself, and you try to transcend them and break them, and so the biggest influence at any one time is the last project that you did. And so a couple years ago, I did this book, and it was very open and kind of loose, called Office Girl, that incorporated a lot of imagery. And as we were putting it together, I wanted it to feel like a French New Wave film, like a collage, and jump cuts between chapters, and then the book I wrote right after that was the most traditional novel that I’ve ever written, this book called Marvel and a Wonder, which takes place in the midwest and is kind of mythological, even kind of biblical connotations to it. And so I think from one project to the next, I’m almost like trying to undo whatever I just did. And so, thinking about it in like a larger context, where technology or digital possibilities are concerned, there’s that same kind of back and forth effect. Like when internet was first introduced, I did this hypertext story for Playboy Magazine. And then after like two years, nobody was really interested in the form anymore. And so I think that’s oftentimes what happens where narrative and technology is concerned. There’s like this leap forward, and people are really excited about it, and then it gets mainstreamed or becomes kind of familiar, and then people kind of go back to some more traditional forms, and then that keeps happening. And so hopefully narrative keeps inventing itself. I was really excited about this project I did with Electric Literature, and I have the feeling that model is going to ultimately become something kind of more popular. When I wrote that thing for Electric Literature, I actually wrote the chapters thinking that you would read it on the phone. And so the length of the chapters, the complexity of the chapters, they were really informed by the reading stage that I was imagining. And that’s exciting to me, and so I think seeing how our reading habits have changed in the last 10 years, since we’re looking at books as three-dimensional objects or seeing them as text and screens and on people’s phones and iPads, I think that’s going to continue to offer some interesting possibilities. So I think that looking at what people are doing in film and television and seeing how you might go back to some of those same ideas with a traditional text. I really don’t know, you know what I mean, and that’s what’s really exciting. Like right now, I’m kind of amazed nobody’s done like a virtual reality text. You know, it seems like the technology isn’t that far off where you could write a text and then somehow interact with it virtually and move through a book and have chapters and things like that. Yeah, I’d love to see something like that.

NO: Yeah, that would be pretty amazing.

JM: I’d like to see some institution give Neil Gaiman a couple million dollars, you know what I mean? ‘Cause that’s how it works, that’s the only way we get these leaps forward, is to have that kind of freedom and support. It’s really hard to do these things if it’s market-based. And so the experiment with Electric Literature, like for me it was less about how many clicks or how much ad money they make or whatever, it was you know here’s this cool thing, let’s try it. And that’s why Electric Literature over the last 10 years has done some really amazing things, because they’re interested in that kind of pioneering quality.

NO: Yeah. Personally, I think that was the perfect venue for Star Witness to kind of be in.

JM: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I’m such a fan of that. I mean that’s one of the few websites, you know I go to it every couple days. And the fact that they haven’t given up on literature being part of pop culture, that to me is at the heart of what I think I’m interested in in my writing.

NO: So in terms of your writing, your stories are very character-driven, but sometimes to me it feels like one of those characters seems to be the setting itself, like I would say the city of Chicago in your novel Office Girl. So I wanted to know: What does setting mean to you as a writer?

JM: You’ve got some great questions, I appreciate it. I think everything that I’ve ever started, whether it’s a short story or a play or a novel, whatever, it always starts with a character. And I have this kind of narrow idea about narrative in general, that for a story to work, you have to have two characters at least, and to do a play or novel, more characters than that, and ultimately there’s like one central relationship that drives each story. And so having that and then figuring out what’s the best time and place, how do you use a particular era or particular location, and really for me it’s about looking at these kind of invisible worlds or these like undiscovered places, these subcultures that haven’t been written about or documented all that often. And so looking at these punk kids in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s and writing about that, or writing about the kids at art school in Office Girl. And oftentimes like you mentioned, they come out of some sort of experience or some sort of place that I feel is important to me and had some sort of impact on me. And so yeah, in a way the places in all my books are kind of the artifacts of the different settings that have meant something to me, that have changed me in some way. And so you’re like going back and trying to identify those in your own life, and it ends up being this kind of strange map of the places and the kind of subcultures or the settings that had this kind of emotional impact on you. And then you bring the characters to that and hopefully there’s a relationship between those two things. And so you’re trying to use, like you said, the place as a way to raise the stakes, cause conflict, and sometimes even allow things to change as well.

NO: Very cool. So I recently watched “People Are Becoming Clouds,” a short film that was based on a story of yours, and I was struck by how your very distinctive dialogue was translated onto the screen. It was almost like I knew it was based on your writing even without knowing that beforehand. So I wanted to know: What does it feel like for you to see your work adapted to another medium?

JM: That’s a great question. I’ve been really fortunate, so I’ve had a bunch of short films made, mostly out of short stories, my first novel, a chapter of it was adapted as this great short film called “Tender as Hellfire.” So you know what’s interesting, Nick? I told you like I had gone off to college, and I took all these film classes and was taking writing classes as well, and so to me, at heart, I’ve always thought of myself as a visual writer, a very physical writer, and film and music both have always had just as much impact and kind of influence on my writing as actual texts or other novels and short stories. And so I feel like I’m constantly looking to film, looking to music, looking to other books, and seeing the collision where the interesting conversation arises out of those different things. But yeah, strangely it feels very natural. It doesn’t feel unfamiliar to see it actually filmed and physicalized in a cinematic way. To me it’s like that’s just what was in my head, and Marc Katz did such a fantastic job with that short film adaptation, it was premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, which is a huge honor, and then it was picked up by The New Yorker and hosted by The New Yorker. Marc did a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the story and kind of making it his own. To me, it’s just another outlet or avenue to experiment with story.

NO: So I wanted to know: Do you have any specific rituals or locations you need to be at while you write, or do you just kind of adapt to the situation?

JM: That’s a great question. I try not to set any obstacles, so then I can write whenever or wherever I have to, and then trying to be adaptable. And I have a wife and two kids, so depending on their schedules and things like that, but as a working writer you don’t always get to pick the time and the place where you’re able to write. I will say, like I do work pretty consistently Monday through Saturday from 8 till 11, and that is like developing new material, rewriting, doing fiction, writing some nonfiction magazine stuff, and it’s a variety of different projects that are all kind of constantly overlapping each other. You don’t feel like you sit down at the computer and never have anything to write, you’re never staring at a blank page. So having a couple different projects going on at the same time, one, it’s just like a financial necessity, and then, two, you always feel like, well I need to go back to this. I will say, working on a longer book-length thing, that’s the time when for a month at a time you might be focusing just on that one project, and as soon as you get a draft of that done, you know I kind of put it away and then do a bunch of small projects and then go back to it for another draft. But yeah, I have an office in our house, and I sit down there and work. It’s not very interesting or glamorous, but I like it like that. I like just not being pretentious about it or not being precious about it, it’s just your job, you just sit down and do it, you know? And I feel really grateful for the time that I have to do it.

 

Joe Meno’s new novella in seven parts, Star Witness, can be found online at Electric Literature. For all other things Joe Meno, visit http://www.joemeno.com/.

New Poem by Kevin Martin

by Kevin Martin

 

i
Remember
department of corrections
number when pushing plunger
Remember
driver license number
when cashing pay
checks

So
we can watch
HBO
pray to Jesus momentarily
look into mirror and see stars
lately answered blood flowing
in

The
middle of the body where
everyone sleeps at night after prayers
tithes paid to change the pockets
of preachers

politicians drop bombs in
the middle east
to be taken seriously

christ cannot see without glasses
doesn’t see the soul right in
front of him

Keep on soldiering through a
poke in side accidentally
letting the wine seep out
overdose slow so he could
reach heaven

wait for the rest
of us
to
rejoice
with him in
Paradise

Heroin by Kevin Martin

by Kevin Martin

 

never could
hit between
my
fingers
used to
dwell in
other sacred places

dreams gaunt after stars
in veins i think of you
always

live like i might be a
good man
with thunder in my ear
lightning
smooth as ever
she never wanted
to be bad
neither did i

kissed her squarely
on the mouth

both accustomed
to consumption

devour each other
every chance we get
don’t fuck around
as the sun
shines overhead