Tag Archives: Spring 2017

The Winged Histories

Sofia Samatar
Small Beer Press ($24)

by Jane Franklin

Sofia Samatar’s second novel is an imagist epic fantasy, a feminist and anti-colonialist reworking of one of those spongy-thick novels with maps at the front (it has a map at the front) and, like her first novel A Stranger in Olondria, a book about books, reading, and language. It is dazzlingly beautiful and as close to perfect as a reader can hope.

In its four sections, separated by material entitled “From Our Common History”—perhaps a book, perhaps our actual common history given voice—four women experience a civil war: Tav, the duke’s daughter, who cons and charms her way into military training; Tialon, the daughter of the fundamentalist Priest of the Stone; Seren, a singer of the desert nomads; and Siski, the daughter of a noble house, brought up to be a pawn in a marriage intrigue. All the appurtenances of romance are here—the military training, the hopeless battles, the loyal retainer, the beautiful horses ridden superbly by nomads with flowing hair, the glittering parties and flashing swords—but this is also a story about the contradictions and limits in women’s use of language when language is formed by and purposed for patriarchy.

The imprisoned Tialon, for instance, writes the story of her dead father because her father’s story is what she tells herself is the important one, with her own experiences first creeping into and at last taking over the narrative. Seren sings the traditional songs of dead heroes and speaks the che, the women’s language with its artificially limited vocabulary— “[the] che inside me like a well of gold,” she says of her childhood. “And then I grew up and this gold was worth nothing, nothing. You can’t use it anywhere. It’s only for fighting with other women, or for crying.” And there are letters lost, forged, never sent, stolen and destroyed—women’s writing that doesn’t make it into history.

Didactic or critical fantasy often gives the reader questions to ask. “Look at the world and find out where the power really lies, or where the women are; ask who built the castle and whether they were free laborers or slaves, pay attention to who dies in the great battles.” It tells us what to look for. The Winged Histories is about what we can’t see because it has slid away, escaped, been hidden or lost. We as readers can see what is in the lost letters or Tialon’s sketches of herself traveling a world she’s read about but never seen; we observe Siski’s life as a refugee, when she calls herself Dai Fanlei, Miss Apple, and turns mattresses for a pittance. But these are the things that don’t make history—the paper ephemera, the experiences lived but never written down or spoken. It’s a kind of trick; we can see them in this book, which tells us that we can’t see them here, in our world.

Samatar’s prose, always wonderful, has really grown into itself. She has a fine mastery of tone—the passages from Our Common History, for instance, are ironic and sly, as when describing Prince Andasya: “‘His charm perfumes the air for a hundred miles,’ gushes a writer for The Watcher. Hearts flutter when he enters the army: if he should be injured or killed! But then—how heroic of him to enlist! When he puts on his scarlet guardsman’s jacket, his lips look redder than ever.” Even Samatar’s semi-colons are satiric, and her use of the present tense in these sections recalls Angela Carter.

The novel’s anti-colonial politics are visible throughout, but come to the fore in the elliptical chapter narrated by a grieving Seren, “The History of Music.” Here Samatar uses repeated images, phrasing and pacing to create a feeling of incredible tension. Seren is speaking to her lover Tav, who has returned from her failed uprising, the uprising which has not delivered an autonomous Kestenya but has instead killed many of Seren’s people:

But let’s say it, let’s say what there is to say. Let’s get it out, let’s write, let’s put it there: You are from everywhere and I am from Kestenya. You are from mansions and palaces and cities and mountains and emptiness and pleasure and I am from the great plateau . . . . Your grandfather prayed with the great Olondrian visionary who made your grandfather sleep on planks that brought out sores on his soft and timid body, and my grandfather slept in a mass grave on the road to Viraloi where he was hung by the heels with seventeen others until they died of thirst.

There’s tremendously more to this book—the strange sense of leisure imparted by how it lingers over snapshot-bright instants while eliding battles, councils, and meetings of the great, all of which take place in an allusive sentence or offstage; the imagistic landscape writing; the rare combination of a fantasy plot with a modernist psychological approach; the constant theme of misperception and hiddenness. And that is to leave out the “Drevedi,” the demons of myth who ruled—or so it is said—an Olondria before Olondria, and who exist as the real of the outside and the other, the strange and marvelous which can be sympathized with and loved (or cruelly killed, drowned in hot wax) but never explained into sameness. With its deft exploration of the tension inherent to inhabiting a marginalized subject position, The Winged Histories is one of the finest fantasy novels of 2016, or any year.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

handholding: 5 kinds

Tracie Morris
Kore Press ($22)

by Greg Bem

“Why do we take it? This uneven display. The unfairness, the fake, the array? We don’t need or eat it. We take in. We play. Where’s the leftover sent away to. Awetu. A weight too.”
—from “Consumption” in “If I Re-viewed Her” (Tracie Morris handholding with Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons)

What is the nature of collaboration, of one artist working with another artist to create something together? What happens when the collaborators come from different cultures, countries, incredibly complex and differing aesthetic histories? What is built upon and what is concisely shaven away? Where does the conversation begin, and where does it evolve during the creative process? Two hands being held is an image abstract though representative of collaboration, and it is also the image evocating balance, unity, gentleness, and a grateful reciprocity.

Tracie Morris, in handholding: 5 kinds, demonstrates what it means to collaborate on such levels, with the hands of two creators pressing inward toward each other. Here we have Morris inspecting her own spectrum of creative inquiry, paying attention to the crossing of time, of genre, and of style between those she appreciates and the voices and creative ranges within herself. This densely-built book, supplemented with digital recordings of all Morris’s pieces, is an exquisite folio of her explorations, interests, passions, and inquisitions of her other artists, of her aesthetic dualities. As much a book of Morris’s voices, handholding: 5 kinds affords new glimpses into the primary works of Morris’s dead and living collaborators: Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, Seven Songs for Malcolm X by John Akomfrah, Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein, Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters, and 4’33 by John Cage.

In each of the inspiring works, Morris has found conceptual approaches to redefine, readjust, and impress upon herself the key ingredients of these artistic masters. Morris identifies, attaches, and coexists before arising and creating something new. “eyes wide shut: a not neo-benshi read” is a poem that is also a performed script, a superimposing on the original that is designed to be experienced along with the played film. “Songs and Other Sevens,” on the other hand, provides similar direct responses to and evocations of the scenes and fragments of film (Seven Songs for Malcolm X) but, as Morris describes, can exist on its own, a chant-poem capable of funneling her personal and cultural history with X more directly, intently. The pieces crafted out of and in response to Tender Buttons, which fall under the name “If I Re-viewed Her,” focus on heavyset linguistics and form complex chains of delirious musing. I imagine Stein reading the re-view in dashes of pride and acceptance. With “Resonatæ,” the energy and sound poetry polemics achieved by Schwitters are taken even further with Morris’s slightly melodic, powerfully Dada approach to her own voice’s upper and lower limits. And finally, the Cage recording: pure, sweet, silence—the ultimate balance to the rest of handholding, and the ultimate homage to the environmental sound artist.

Opening the book brings us closer to Morris’s mind. Each primary artistic work is described and explored in detail via individual prefaces, providing the personal and artistic contexts and historical relationships Morris developed with her collaborators. In the case of Eyes Wide Shut, Seven Songs for Malcolm X, and Tender Buttons, the primary works themselves are provided in full in textual form and can be experienced through the book alone, though the recordings of Morris’s impassioned and poignant readings of the works are also available. Her works responding to Schwitters and Cage are described in the book with their own prefaces, but must be engaged auditorily to be experienced.

The collaborative processes seen in Morris’s book provide us with an ekphrastic and ecstatic way of looking at intentional artistic relationships. Though four of the artists have long-since passed away, hearing Morris describe their work through her new work is a close affirmation to the beautiful presence of their spirits in this century. Morris goes far to provide comprehensive explanations to these collaborations. Her work in such directions demonstrates a powerful level of depth in appreciation and awareness of the lineages we all face, admire, and hope to work with through our individual lenses. And how we work, as Morris demonstrates through her beautiful range, starts best with a holding of hands.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

Dada After Dada: An Interview with Martin Nakell

interviewed by David Moscovich

Among other accolades, Martin Nakell received an NEA Interarts Grant and the Gertrude Stein Award in Poetry, and is known widely for his courses on James Joyce and twentieth-century poetry. He has authored a generous number of texts, most recently Monk (Spuyten Duyvil, 2015), Unnamed: the Emotions (Jaded Ibis Press, 2015), The Lord of Silence (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016), and IS (Lit Fest Press, $16), the latter book being the center of this discussion. Nakell is Professor of Creative Writing at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Discussed herein: Dada’s one hundred-year anniversary, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Shimon Peres, The Chaos Theory of Literary Composition, epistemological breaks, unsolvable equations, Charlie Parker at Minton’s, James Joyce's neologistic practice, a semantic rumination on the verb "to be," finding Sappho.

I first met Nakell while reading alongside him at the Ukrainian Institute of America, an architectural and cultural gem located steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Manhattan's Upper East Side. This interview was chiseled during the turbulent, astonishing, and heart-obliterating year of 2016, but most notably relevant for this exchange was the exhibition Dadaglobe Reconstructed, which held its opening this past June at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The MoMA has described Dadaglobe as "Tristan Tzara’s planned but unrealized magnum opus." This intertextual meeting with Dada, a century after the official inception of the movement, catalyzed my impetus to speak with Nakell about IS, which references Tristan Tzara. While IS may not be a purely Dadaist text, it contains at least a glimmer of Dada. Therefore, this interview—conducted by email and spackled with personal conversations during meetings in New York—is in a sense a celebration of one hundred years of Dada.

As I ruminated upon IS, the book suggested to me a series of inquiries circling around Nakell's methodical, contemplative poetics of intentional tautology: How should readers approach IS? What is the function of the verb "to be" and what are its limits? How do its semiotics inform and misinform our perceptions, articulations, melancholies, politics, being?

These seemed to be questions that IS was asking. In short bursts of potent yet spacious prose, the language reads like an inquiry into its own etymology; at other times IS feels like a rhetorical suffusion which exists to nullify that edge between signifier and signified. To say this with an economy of letters, if Roland Barthes had aspired to verse, he would have written a book called IS by Martin Nakell.

The very suggestive, inter-textual, and philosophically ambitious nature of this text brings into light how the verb "to be" functions as a fundamental building block of language which might be played against itself. I suspect that Nakell's IS has some relationship with e-prime, a system of writing which avoids any variation of the verb "to be," thus arguably creating greater precision of expression. Nakell's IS does not eschew the verb, yet by treating it with accompanying dadaistic absurdities, its boundaries and assumptions are nonetheless called into question.

As much in connection with e-prime as with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, the very notion of finite definitions is overturned in IS—because "to be" by its nature defines or delineates. I imagine that IS wears a pair of trousers, enters the spin cycle, and a mass of dichotomized change falls from its pockets. I examine one of the dampened coins and find Israel on one side, Palestine on the back. Yet another: heads, Tristan Tzara, tails, Paul Eluard. But a closer look reveals all manner of language deployed around the edges of this currency, in a much finer point, severing all these facile dualities.

These were just the preliminary impressions I shared with Nakell as I navigated this rich work. I began this interview, electronically, with a series of possible trajectories for our conversation, and he elaborated. It might be noted that in one of my questions I employed a trope from one of the poems from IS, "Which is more incomplete?" In my reckoning, Nakell's response reads as an extension of the book itself, which gives readers a direct insight into its content.

David Moscovich: What can you tell me about the title of IS? Did you arrive at the title before, during, or after writing the work? How did these pieces come about?

Martin Nakell: IS is simultaneously a rhetorical question, a statement, an exclamation. It has been a lifelong concern/investigation, passion, obsession, poetic resource. It is fascinating, isn’t it, that we are aware of this absolute fact of IS-ness, of being alive, at the same time that our awareness is so consumed with life as conditional, as contingent, as fleeting, as dream. Therefore, the title arrives—arrives is just the right word—before the book was written, during the writing, and after the book was finished. I already had a unifying theme for the book that unifies my own—and all of our—IS-ness.

DM: You go into Pound’s romance with this word: he discovers that Chinese has no passive verb. Every passive condition is connected to an action.

MN: In “Cross,” from my book The Desert Poems of Southern California (Spuyten Duyvil, 2015) and again in Unnamed: The Emotions (Jaded Ibis, 2015), I write: “until his name is synonymous with the verb to be / in its active tense.” To be is an active condition. Merely to be. It is astonishing. IS. For us and for our sense of the phenomenal world. The title of my book Tautological Eye (Spuyten Duyvil, 2011) also refers to this condition, that what the eye sees, while it cannot see itself, is what is, is all that is, is enough in and of itself. I love—among so many others, of course—Bachelard and Francis Ponge. While both contemplate the paradoxical junction of this IS-ness of things and the fluid human reading of things, I am talking about the bare, read—but as yet uninterpreted—actual fact of this IS-ness of things, including ourselves. And, lastly, there is our reality that our world IS, while it may never have been at all.

DM: I am so glad you brought up your poem "Cross." When I heard you read this out loud it struck what I might call a meta-rational chord, although not in the strictest meaning-laden scholarly sense: the poem goes beyond the rational into a realm of thinking about thinking, with a hyper-awareness of language: "To cross this desert you need a hydrohoroscope / you need a winter hydropither / you need a floral magnemizer / to cross this desert / you need a body ferminizer / you need a capacious arbolitage / you need a mind of desert / you need a pragmatical fibrocunculator/ to cross this desert / you need a tautological eye . . ." [italics mine] You mentioned Pound, but "Cross" also seems to follow Joyce in his neologistic practices; I was unable to resist defining one or two of these wonderful terms as I reread them. Please let me know your thoughts on these.

Ferminization: a cross between the effect of religious speech and a powerful fertilizer.

Pragmatical fibrocunculator: the device which exaggerates transmission delay of voice over optic networks as a result of digital wiretapping processes while telephone conversations and/or related metadata are archived.

Hydrohoroscope: an underwater zodiac.

How are other neologisms and conscious tautologies present in your work?

MN: Meta-rational, that’s right on the mark. I don’t view language as limited, unless you mean in a rational sense. In a meta-rational sense, language is unlimited, neither beholden to meaning nor truth. Communication possibilities are vast, wide-open fields. What is it we have to express and how might we express it? As John Cage says, “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.” Cage’s “nothing” is the nothing-core of his sentence, it allows for everything. So a neologism such as the several I use in “Cross” will be interpreted in a limitless number of ways. “Ferminization,” for example, as you read it: “a cross between the effect of religious speech and a powerful fertilizer.” From there we have the association between early religious incantations as “fertilizer,” as invocations for a fertile crop. Perfectly resonant with the poem. Yet that neologism—a site-specific neologism—“ferminization”—remains empty. Open. Alive. No-thing. To be reinterpreted or not interpreted at all. Meaningful as sound alone. An incantation of its own. And “meaningful” as “meta-rational,” as meaning beyond meaning.

I love those poems which can suggest meaning but only point to it, because they find it only in this meta-rational language—a language, some might say, gone mad—but a language I, and many others, see as having gone further. They strike the chord of consciousness, always beyond us yet at the same time achieved at every moment of our lives. So we need a meta-rational language to say it. In that sense, all vital poetry is meta-rational.

DM: You mentioned in our last meeting that you work with the Chaos Theory of Literary Composition. Can you explain?

MN: At the beginning of A Subset of Chance I lay it out. To paraphrase in brief, borrowing from the scientific proposition of Chaos, every literary composition must undergo that application of energy which brings it into a turbulence where new form, new meaning is discovered. The more each poem or fiction is subjected to such energy, the more emerging new forms appear. These new forms signify both the forms they derive from and the potential forms that they will eventually give way to. Meaning is constantly just ahead, while at the same time, it abides in the continually transformational process of an evolving language. This energy comes from an alertness to the transformational nature of language.

Language, organic, and not static, constantly strives for the new. Every word, each time it’s used, should be a neologism.

Not all writers write with such an understanding. Some, of course, hope only to use language to capture well-worn, worn-out, static meaning. A sort of dead-end emotional closure. Chaos Theory writing opposes that with creation. The poem, the fiction is written only in the writing of it. It is rather what we think of when we call Pollock an “action” painter. It is action writing.

It also opposes the Romantic concept (viz. Wordsworth) that writing “[p]oetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” He seeks to escape into tranquility. I seek—in Chaos Theory—to be in contact with energy, most of all.

And yes, the neologistic is in the Joycean vein in that Joyce saw language as open, as a creative instrument. Unlike the logical positivists, who sought truth or meaning through the direct statement of language, Joyce, the language-artist, sought art, the emotional-intellectual-spiritual-aesthetic-meaningful experience of a language not bound by the simple philosophical limitations of a language hamstrung by a need to correspond to logical truth. The meaning that literature can attain is not just cognitive meaning, it is something far greater. And it can be attained by a language freed from its obligations to convey any truth.

I would say that all language is tautological. It is itself. It IS. There is the story of Charlie Parker, who, as he stood on the cusp of be-bop, said that he knew what he wanted to play but couldn’t play it. He knew it and knew it. Then, one night at Minton’s in Harlem, he played it. That’s how I see language as meta-language, achieving meta-meaning.

DM: That covers the first part of my question, about neologisms in IS. Could you address the idea of the uses of creative tautology in your books?

MN: I published an entire book entitled Tautological Eye dedicated to this. It’s broken into six sections: a tautological subsequence; a tautology of place; a tautology of iteration; a tautology of imagination; a tautology of return; and an autobiography of fire. The overall themeology is that things, while we will perhaps never know their basic substance—atomic, sub-atomic, string, hadron, etc.—can be known as things. As IS. The first section refers to the event that whatever follows is the same in the sense that it too is itself. This is an anti-metaphorical stance. Nothing is so much like anything else as much as it is itself in an utterly uncompromised, undiluted, perpetually transformational state of being. The section a tautology of place is based on my own childhood on the banks of Lake Huron in Alpena, Michigan. Place is an obvious tautology. We never say “Paris is like Athens.” Paris is Paris, Athens, Athens, Alpena is Alpena.

a tautology of iteration refers to the concept again that each iteration of a thing (an object, an idea, a poem) is a thing in itself, so known. Andy Warhol consciously made copies. We see them one at a time. And, in the case of his Marilyn Monroe series, he colors each one differently. And, in the case of Andy Warhol himself, there are of course many—tautological—Andy Warhols.

a tautology of the imagination signifies the IS-ness even of the imagination. There it is, unnameable and uninterpretable. Experienced. A tautology of return signifies the return of each thing to a being-in-itself.

The change-up to an autobiography of fire is at once an aesthetic choice made for pace and rhythm, and a meaning-choice, for fire is one of those elements seemingly irreducible, while at the same time engulfing the whole book in a cleansing flame.

Within the context of my earlier assertion that each word can be made new, I might add the neologisms in this book are words which add up to neologistic image, that is, images of things which don’t exist (except in the imagination, a tautology of the imagination) such as “men crawling beneath the house raise it on their fingertips hold it up to the spinning world.”

DM: Is there an ekphrastic element to the sections “Because of Paul Éluard” or “Because of Tristan Tzara?”

MN: Yes and no. In the sense that I am (to use Douglas Messerli’s term) “writing through” others. I am moved to write by a particular poem or the spirit of the poetry of a certain poet (in these cases obviously Éluard and Tzara) or of certain people. I have a poem “Because of Shimon Peres,” the Israeli statesman who is a man of such profound language, of unwavering vision of peace even in the midst of the most formidable of odds against it. He is, for me, the kind of political leader that Tzara is a poet, unwilling to accept only seen possibilities, willing to create possibilities. Creators who believe we can create, not just inherit, possibilities.

DM: And could you elaborate on how “Because of Tristan Tzara” is not exactly ekphrastic?

MN: I hope “Because of . . .” will be a lifelong project. Some of the earlier ones I titled “A Cause de . . .”. Rather than versions of or even responses to another person’s art, these poems arise because that person lives or lived and accomplished something which resonates with me, or resonates throughout our culture. The two poets you mention, Éluard and Tzara, have sparked these poems in me through words, rhythms, images, a quest for a poetics with which to explore their work, what I feel to be the whole spirit of their life and work. I have written such poems based on the lives/work of jazz musicians such as Billy Higgins and on statesmen like Shimon Peres, whose whole life-spirit I connect with via the poetics of his extraordinary and unique political-diplomatic language, the peace-quest vision of his career. Working in this way, I establish a relationship between us—for me—that I wish to make public through my poetry.

Long ago, I began a series of poems as a leap off from the 1- and 2-line fragments of Sappho in the Suzy Groden translation. This work lead me to visit the village Sappho lived in on Lesvos. It began with the bust of Sappho as we pulled in to the ferry dock in the Port of Lesvos. Then, a trip on a rickety old Mercedes bus through narrow mountainous roads, to Sappho’s now-abandoned village. There, I stared out at the sea Sappho stared at in the anticipations, longings, and reveries she writes about. I walked the paths in and around the village. And I established, in my own poetic life, a relationship between myself, a male American post-modern poet, with Sappho, a female lyric Greek poet, experimental in language, form, and style. That’s a phenomenal accretion of my poetic experiences. A close reading of her poems as close as one may get.

That trip to Greece I had undertaken partly in search of one of my foundational languages, in search of the foundations of my culture and in search of myself, one of my foundational selves. The first, I found. The second, I think I also found—if nowhere else, then in Sappho’s village, and in the ruins of an ancient amphitheater no one even knew was there. Sitting down on those stone benches, I listened to Oedipus speak to his daughter, Antigone, to Sappho recite her lyrics. That was pro/found. In these two places, by myself, no one around, I could be as Greek, as ancient Greek, as ever I might become, in order to be the poet I am now.

To return to the question—not ekphrastic, exactly—but have I known Tzara, Éluard, Billy Higgins, Shimon Peres, Sappho? Perhaps as much as I know myself, seeing as I do, through my own tautological eye, as they saw through theirs. That’s why I write these “Because of . . .” poems. In IS, there is a poem entitled “Penelópé” which I may have never been able to write without my journey to Greece and to Lesvos.

DM: Recently, I was at the MoMA to see the opening of their exhibition after Tzara’s publication project Dadaglobe, which was to be a book of more than fifty contributors. The book was never published in Tzara’s lifetime, only now as part of the MoMA catalogue. Which is more incomplete: Dada or Dadaglobe?

MN: Which is more incomplete, Dada or Tzara? Which is more incomplete, David Moscovich or Martin Nakell? Which is more incomplete, my apprenticeship under Robert Creeley or Robert Creeley? Which is more incomplete, the Sufficient Insufficiency or the Hindu God Vishnu? Which is more incomplete, the dialogue between David Moscovich and Martin Nakell or the square root of glass? Which is more incomplete, the question or the answer? Which is more incomplete, my hatred or my love? Which is more complete, sex or the afterlife?

DM: You mentioned your admiration for Bachelard. Please tell me more about how his work relates to yours.

MN: I wrote, and later published in the New Orleans Review, a paper on Bachelard, for a critical theory class with Helen Elam that I took in my doctoral program at SUNY Albany. Gaston Bachelard was a French philosopher. He died in 1962. He’d first studied physics, then turned to philosophy. He loved poetry, and read widely in it. I wrote on his book, The Poetics of Space. Bachelard’s scientific perspective dealt with breaches in scientific theories. Those moments when a leap is made—a leap, always, from belief in one system to belief in another—arose from what Bachelard termed the “epistemological obstacle” and yielded up the “epistemological break.” Great language in those phrases. The first, the epistemological obstacle refers to those mind-sets that, unbreakably tied to a scientific belief, resist new ideas. The second, the epistemological break, to that state of mind fluid and light enough to discover new ideas, new realities. Einstein’s relativity discovery is the most famous example, based as it was on intuition, a highly educated intuition, inspiration, and, ultimately, scientific demonstration.

I’ve adopted, stolen from the Chaos Theory of physics, what I call the Chaos Theory of Literary Composition. Its purpose, like Bachelard’s epistomelogical break, is to discover new form. In the chaos theory of physics, the application of heat to an element changes the structure of that element. Water bubbling on the stove, for example. The heat, or energy-source, in literary composition is passion, knowledge, intuition, rhythm, narrativity, image, syntax. When you break open a form you have the potential to discover absolutely new form, the obligation to yourself to do so.

The experience of art and literature is energy. That energy is released by the disruption of form & the spontaneous discovery of new form. That disruption of form opens fissures along which this energy travels—it is where the reader encounters it. If the writer can accomplish this disruption somehow they will reach the reader. If not, they won’t give anything to the world. That’s a statement of the Chaos Theory of Literary Composition—mini-manifesto. In literature and art, we will get nowhere, of course, without an epistemological break and explosion of energy in every word, every poem, every novel, every experience/encounter connected with each of those things.

In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard wanders within the realms of mostly French poets, and the spatial relationships we have architectured out of our needs and emotions and tools and out of the is-ness of our minds for ourselves and which we name home, and by extension, all of the space around us as we live and move. From there, by extension, we must of course go directly to the space of our own bodies.

DM: Speaking of quantum physics—what about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? Does that play into your book IS?

MN: Yes! I’ve been obsessed with that Principle since I first came upon it many years ago, reading about it as we drove from New York through Canada to Los Angeles. So. Travel. Movement. Relativity. Uncertainty.

A dancer living in Los Angeles, Mary Ann Kellog, who had been Dance Master with Twyla Tharp, having seen some of my fiction, approached me about turning three of my short stories into film. While I still subscribe to Robbe-Grillet’s notion that a fiction is made as a fiction (language), a film as a film (visuals), nonetheless, Mary Ann’s vision was quite sympathetic to the work, visionary and theatrical. We worked together for many months, finally producing the as yet, unfilmed, film: A Heisenberg Trilogy.

I use Heisenberg’s Principle in the classroom constantly, every semester, every course. Where uncertainty prevails, creativity expands. It’s a case that can’t be overstated. And it’s easier for us to discuss vis-a-vis a scientist than an artist, a writer. The scientist still works with facts, data, the observable. Per Heisenberg: we can know either the speed or the location of an atom, but not both. If we know its speed, we can’t stop it to know its location. In between those observations falls the uncertainty. This uncertainty we have been reaching for and achieving and losing again and reaching for as a culture, as cultures, for at least a couple thousand years. For the artist, the writer, there are no facts, no data, and the observable depends on what you see. Contrary to the experience of the scientist, the writer—working in the open, epistemologically broken space of uncertainty—not only faces an epistemological void, s/he faces a spiritual/emotional/experiential/political/social miasma into which he/she must wander to shape that void of uncertainty into art.

Do you perhaps know Mary Capanegro’s Five Doubts? Wonderful book of short fictions in which she talks about delving into doubt to retrieve therefrom, art. I heard a very successful business administrator recently lecture on how important it is in life to have no doubt, to trust yourself and your instincts completely. How wrong for an artist, in his/her art, in her/his life! Where you are never uncertain, you will never see anything new. Where you fear failure (that common motivational “failure is not an option”) you can be/see/create nothing beyond what you already were. Every time I work, I see that failure is an option. That there is only everything uncertain about working, in my work.

So, please, David, join me one day in my class early in a semester. You will hear me invoke the Uncertainty Principle to open up a discussion of, at least, god, poetry, consciousness, and language theory in the past two thousand years as culture and knowledge and science have changed, and done so, we might say, in accordance with Heisenberg’s Principle. During that class, please ask me an unanswerable question; propose to me an unsolvable equation, so that when my students walk out into that snow all they might want to do is to go home with someone else in the class and have sex with them and whether it is in desperation or sorrow or anger or beauty they will be yet too young to discern.

And so how does all that relate to our work? When we know just how contingent language is, how fluid and translucent, how we might use that language to do our work—which is not the work of arriving at truth, not an obligation to explore the soul, even to comfort or inspire—when we know that our work is to pose that unsolvable equation and to leave the reader alone with her/his own Heisenberg, we might really be writing. When we know that our work is not to say and not even to mean but to create an experience of art, of energy, that’s our language, new and altogether new.

The verb, “to do,” implicitly inhabits the title of my book, IS. Better put, the title IS already acts. That’s what I want. Is-ness contains no stasis. Each word, an action, in motion.

Click here to purchase IS at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

Spring 2017


Dada After Dada: An Interview with Martin Nakell
Interviewed by David Moscovich
If Roland Barthes had aspired to verse, he would have written a book called IS by Martin Nakell.

Direct from the Heart: a video interview with Red Pine
Before a Minneapolis reading from his new book Finding Them Gone: Visiting China's Poets of the Past, Bill Porter (AKA Red Pine) sat down with Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer and author James Lenfestey to discuss his beginnings as a translator and how the best poetry comes directly from the heart.


Asemic Translations: Dwelling in Illegibility 
by Elisabeth Workman
In this visual essay originally presented at Rain Taxi's "Asemic Translations" event on March 25, 2017, poet Elizabeth Workman explores writing that is visible but not always legible, fictional but not false.  

From the Backlist

The Old Boys
William Trevor
With the passing of William Trevor in the fall of 2016, we revisit the 50-year-old novel intended as a meditation on memory and aging. Reviewed by Jesse Freedman

On Borrowed Wings
Chandra Prasad
What if the first woman to attend Yale University did so in the mid-1930s instead of decades later? Reviewed by Dennis Barone


This Poem Is a House
Ken Sparling
Elements of magical realism inhabit these quirky and whimsical poems by the Canadian poet. Reviewed by Marissa McHugh

Peter Boyle
In this bold and ambitious book, Boyle creates eleven fictive poets (from Latin America, France, and Quebec) and their work, which he has “translated” for the reader. Reviewed by John Bradley


Linthead Stomp
Tim Earley
With a title that evokes the old south, Linthead Stomp writhes and seethes like a briar of barbed wire. Reviewed by Kent Weigle

Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems
Connie Wanek
Wanek’s deft use of language, combined with an attitude of wonder, breaks down the artificial borders between self and other, natural and human. Reviewed by Edward A. Dougherty

Driving without a License
Janine Joseph
Propelled by the topic of immigration and filled with heartbreaking relevance, the book still manages to treat the subject with a unique sense of humor that feels wholly appropriate. Reviewed by Steve Fellner

Tommy Pico
What do you do when the Muse doesn’t text back? asks one of the most compulsively readable poetry debuts of the past year. Reviewed by Benjamin Voigt

The Catch
Fiona Sampson
Simpson displays the minutiae of suburbia with frenetic energy, so even the calmest acts, from standing on a ferry and watching the shore to listening to animals scurry about as the sun sets, become chaotic. Reviewed by Kevin Holton

Save Twilight: Selected Poems
Julio Cortázar
This plump pocket-sized collection is an excellent introduction to Julio Cortázar’s compelling and varied poetic work. Reviewed by John M. Bennett 

handholding: 5 kinds
Tracie Morris
Poet Tracie Morris explores artistic collaboration with an assortment of artists through the spectrum of her own creative inquiry. Reviewed by Greg Bem

The Tornado is the World
Catherine Pierce
In poem after poem, Pierce raises the stakes on what might otherwise be the emotionally mundane. Reviewed by Allison Campbell 


The Moravian Night
Peter Handke
Reading a new novel by Peter Handke is like taking a month-long walk in the woods: You know it's going to be hard and some stretches will be dull, but you also know there will be surprises along the way. Reviewed by John Toren

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016
edited by Karen Joy Fowler
Readers of speculative fiction will recognize authors such as Kelly Link, Sofia Samatar, and Ted Chiang—but this anthology is diverse and includes some uncommon names as well. Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller

Cabo de Gata
Eugen Ruge
Translated by Anthea Bell
In Ruge’s second novel, themes of traveling aimlessly, giving oneself over to change, and being lost in translation rise up together like dust in a ray of sunlight. Reviewed by Erin Lewenauer

D. Foy
Foy’s second novel is a dark, brave, complicated tale, speaking to the rages that linger in men through generations. Reviewed by Benjamin Woodard

Before the Wind
Jim Lynch
Both family and the waters of Puget Sound figure prominently in Before the Wind, as grown and nearly-grown children grapple with their parents to set their own independent courses.  Reviewed by Daniel Picker

The Winged Histories
Sofia Samatar
Samatar’s second novel is an imagist epic fantasy, a feminist and anti-colonialist reworking of one of those spongy-thick novels with maps at the front. Reviewed by Jane Franklin

The Last Wolf & Herman
László Krasznahorkai
The acclaimed Hungarian author’s new novellas are a perfect introduction to Krasznahorkai’s unique and growing oeuvre. Reviewed by Alex Brubaker 


The Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life:
How to Live a Poetic Life, Even if You Aren’t a Poet

Cynthia Gallaher
Whether you are a starving poet or for some reason just want to live like one, The Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life will help you to see the beauty in the simpler things of life. Reviewed by Laura Winton

A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism
Paul Youngquist
The story of Herman Blount, who would later change his name to Sun Ra, starts on Earth. Reviewed by Will Wlizlo

this is the fugitive
Misha Pam Dick
Misha Pam Dick’s book overtly engages the experience of identity as fluid, as intimately linked to and even driven by the texts and authors one reads. Reviewed by Jay Besemer

The Home Place: Essays on Robert Kroetsch’s Poetry
Dennis Cooley
Cooley explores the long poems of western Canadian poet Robert Kroetsch, whose work chronicles not only his native prairie, but also the distinct shifts that propelled poetries in the Americas in the late twentieth century. Reviewed by Garin Cycholl

300 Arguments
Sarah Manguso
Manguso’s latest foray into nonfiction is part memoir, part advice, part laughter, and all unflinching honesty. Reviewed by Zoey Cole

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

300 Arguments

Sarah Manguso
Graywolf Press ($14)

by Zoey Cole

If writers as a group are accused of being blissfully unaware of their egos, then Sarah Manguso is a virtuously self-aware exception. 300 Arguments, her latest foray into nonfiction, is part memoir, part advice, part laughter, and all unflinching honesty.

At first, these ninety pages of short aphorisms, ranging from five to eighty-five words, appear disjointed and confusing. There is no immediately obvious thread except for Manguso’s straightforward sass and personal reminiscences and opinions; there is a short scene about “the gay cadets” and another about cat skeletons. Remembering the second statement in the book—“You might as well start by confessing your greatest shame. Anything else would just be exposition”—will help the reader to spot the connecting pieces that begin to surface as Manguso offers glimpses into marriage, sex, motherhood, writing, and failure.

Manguso reveals personal details almost as if she is putting together clues from a murder, or in this case, an affair. Manguso hints at her fear about love early in the book: “I used to avoid people when I was afraid I loved them too much. Ten years, in one case. Then, after I had been married long enough that I was married even in my dreams, I became able to go to those people, to feel that desire, and to know that it would stay a feeling.” Nine pages later, she gives us “[the] affair is over, but at least things have gone somewhere, if only into oblivion. And maybe oblivion is what I wanted all along.” Hints about her eventual marriage, her son, and her autoimmune disease serve to illustrate the personality and depth behind her voice, never sensationalizing those experiences at the expense of her prose.

The latter half of the book focuses more obviously on the frustrations, joys, and realities of the writing life. Manguso has been a published writer for at least fifteen years now (her first poetry collection, The Captain Lands in Paradise, was published by Alice James Books in 2002), and the voice threading itself through 300 Arguments is at once world-weary and hopeful when concerned with writing. In one moment, she explains “People like to tell my very successful friend that they, too, intend to write some books. He always answers, with big eyes and a ghoulish smile, How hard could it be?” Four topically unrelated statements later, she returns to this thought: “Another friend always gives the same consolation to those afraid of publishing some potentially embarrassing passage. Don’t worry, he whispers beatifically. No one will read it.” Self-deprecating moments like these endear Manguso to the reader, and she is honest even about Arguments itself: “Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.”

Short books like 300 Arguments can lend themselves too much to social media bites and inspirational quotations. While Manguso is easily quotable, that is not the purpose of this collection; this is life experience and real wisdom distilled onto a few short pages.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

The Last Wolf & Herman

László Krasznahorkai
Translated by John Bakti and George Szirtes
New Directions ($15.95)

by Alex Brubaker

Winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, László Krasznahorkai has a reputation, perhaps not unearned, of being a notoriously difficult writer. His fiction is filled with winding, obsessive passages that blatantly disregard the “artificial” full stop, as he says—instead preferring commas, parenthetical asides, and a prose that reflects the more natural stream of speech. Krasznahorkai’s fiction is dense, too—the Hungarian author has a proclivity for shifting points of view (sometimes even within the same sentence), unorthodox structures, and narratives that teeter on the edge of apocalypse. One of his translators, George Szirtes, says that Krasznahorkai’s sentences take the reader down a “slow, lava flow of narrative” and through “loops and dark alleyways—like wandering in and out of cellars.” Unapologetically bleak, his work can be a challenge to read—but it is also among the most inventive and rewarding fiction out there today.

For the uninitiated, diving into Krasznahorkai’s work can be an intimidating experience. As beautiful and sweeping as masterworks such as Satantango and The Melancholy of Resistance are, they aren’t the easiest gateway into Krasznahorkai’s world. Luckily, the Hungarian’s newest two novellas, The Last Wolf and Herman—published together in one slim gray hardcover—stand as a perfect introduction to Krasznahorkai’s growing oeuvre. A welcome addition for the curious reader and the Krasznahorkai enthusiast alike, these novellas display all of the characteristic traits that make reading Krasznahorkai such a unique experience.

Translated by George Szirtes and John Bakti respectively, The Last Wolf and Herman stand on their own as two separate narratives, though they’re thematically connected with typical Krasznahorkai concerns—alienation, poverty, and despair. Herman—a two-part story told from two different perspectives—is the shorter and easier to digest of the two. In it, we witness Herman, a wildlife trapper who, on the verge of retirement, is tasked with one last project: to rid the Remete woods of “noxious predators.” As Herman dutifully clears the “couple of hundred acres” of these harmful predators, he’s overcome with a sense of compassion for the animals he’s devoted his life to trapping, and descends into a state of grief and madness. As his sense of obligation to rectify a lifetime of ignorance grows stronger, an epiphany emerges:

by the time winter arrived, and Christmas came, he finally understood that he had been living his life in the deepest ignorance, allowing himself to be led by the nose, firmly believing he was obeying the order of divine providence when he had divided the world into noxious and beneficial, while in reality both categories originated in the same heinous ruthlessness . . .

Herman soon turns against the townspeople, and his growing misanthropy and highly skilled trapping skills propel the narrative into those dark, winding alleyways mentioned above, where Krasznahorkai offers no shortage of reproach for humanity.

As perfectly grim as Herman is, The Last Wolf stands out as the real masterpiece here. In a single, novella-length sentence, Krasznahorkai’s control of language and storytelling is on full display. The narrator recounts the story of his fateful trip to Extremadura, an isolated stretch of Spain, to write about the true story of the region’s last wolf. Sent (perhaps mistakenly) by an unknown foundation, the obsessed and depressed former professor tells his story to an inattentive bartender in a dingy, empty bar—a fitting locality for a Krasznahorkai narrative to take place.

Not so dissimilar from Thomas Bernhard’s infamously cantankerous narrators, Krasznahorkai’s speaker rants and rages against the world through repetitious, looping, and obsessive thoughts—a stream of nihilism off the rails:

how could he explain how long ago he had given up the idea of thought, the point at which he first understood the way things were and knew that any sense we had of existence was merely a reminder of the incomprehensible futility of existence, a futility that would repeat itself ad infinitum, to the end of time and that, no, it wasn’t a matter of chance and its extraordinary, inexhaustible, triumphant, unconquerable power working to bring matters to birth or annihilation, but rather the matter of a shadowy demonic purpose, something embedded deep in the heart of things, in the texture of the relationship between things, the stench of whose purpose filled every atom, that it was a curse, a form of damnation, that the world was the product of scorn . . .

This is Krasznahorkai verging on the apocalyptic, taking the reader into those dark alleyways, where, with an almost poetic absurdity, he explores the depths of despair. Still, believe it or not, there’s a subdued warmth in this story—this isn’t Nietzsche or Cioran or even Bernhard—and Krasznahorkai does affect a subtle pathos that draws the reader in. As the narrator of The Last Wolf gets closer to finding out the truth behind the disappearance of the last wolf of Extremadura, Krasznahorkai’s long, winding sentence accelerates to a startling crescendo.

It’s a testament to Krasznahorkai’s storytelling ability that he’s able to relay this so effectively in one single sentence. This isn’t language draped in adornment for adornment’s sake—there is pulse and purpose behind his relentless prose. Krasznahorkai creates a breathlessness that, once the reader comes to the first full stop of the novella, will make her want to pause, take a breath, and start all over again.

As bleak and unsentimental as Krasznahorkai’s fiction can be, there is compassion and empathy fueling these stories, even if it may be directed more towards animals than humans. The Last Wolf and Herman encompass all of what makes Krasznahorkai a fascinating and bewildering writer—in these stories, he again reminds us why we must grapple with the thorny questions of existence.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

The Tornado is the World

Catherine Pierce
Saturnalia ($16)

by Allison Campbell

As way of introduction to Catherine Pierce’s third book, The Tornado is the World, you might watch the Motion Poem “The Mother Warns the Tornado.” The short film accomplishes what good trailers are meant to accomplish; you are left wanting more. The poem confesses, “I am a greedy son of a bitch, and there / I know we are kin.” In watching the eerie images unfold to form Pierce’s narrative—leaves fight in ominous wind, a floral-print mattress covers a claw-footed tub—and hearing the poet’s hollowed-out voice say, “I know I’ve already had more than I deserve,” readers are bound to feel greedy, to want the rest of the poems this voice and imagination have created.

In “True Story” Pierce writes, “no told story is ever true enough.” Her syntax creates a new noun, “told story,” an alternative to story, raising the question whether or not a story is, indeed, a story before it is told. Whether it is or not, in The Tornado is the World Pierce is set on exaggerating her way to reality, and I mean this in the best sense of exaggeration. In poem after poem, Pierce raises the stakes on what might otherwise be the emotionally mundane; voices of the tourist, teenage girl, and checkout clerk vacillate between cliché, comic, and sagacious. “I Used to Be Able to Listen to Sad Songs,” for example, begins with a simple and calm enough first line, but rapidly amps up after the first line break:

but that was before they started strutting
around with rocks in their fists, started
kicking the backs of my knees so that I
crumpled right there on the asphalt,
their faces streaming tears all the while.
That was before they started showing me
the switch blades in their boots. Before
the twisted arms and sucker punches.

Other addresses are more subdued, less hyperkinetic. “The Dog Greets the Tornado” has a narrative voice that calls to mind the sardonic narrator of Natsume Sōseki’s classic Japanese novel, I Am a Cat—while the cat says, “The truth may simply be that human society is no more than a massing of lunatics,” Pierce’s dog is more accepting:

Hello one-not-like-me. Hello
to your great tail. You are larger
than the truck that takes me
to the woods and back. You are larger
than the house I sometimes go in.
I see you coming close. I am blown
back on myself. My teeth buzz.

Today I caught a squirrel. Today
I dug a patch of earth bare and slept
for a while. It was a good day.

You are so large. The man is inside
the house. I feel my haunches needling up.

And now the brown trees are below me.
The house is below me. The man
is below me. I am part of the sky.
I hear you howling. You must
have learned that from me.

The book contains many poems with tornado as theme or persona—poems that fluctuate between the strikingly grim and potently humorous—but Pierce’s work in The Tornado is the World is not limited by the theme. In “The Unabashed Tourist Brings Her Lover to the French Quarter,” she writes, “In this place / you can buy me a hurricane, and we can / stroll all night with storms in our hands.” The contrast between common consumption and catastrophe in the word “hurricane” creates a type of social, moral, and environmental whiplash. Pierce frequently pulls the rug-out-from under this way. In so doing, her poems remind readers that no one is immune to disaster. But the writing also highlights that forgetting and remembering our proximity to calamity is key to the beauty and absurdity of what it means to be utterly, vulnerably human.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017