Loading the Canon #22: That’s Not What You Think That Is

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Loading the Canon #22 by Helena-Anne Hittel

That’s Not What You Think That Is

Here’s a photograph of a work titled Princess X (1915-16). I want you to take a good, long look at it. Ready? Go.

Princess

Yeah. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. “Helena-Anne. That’s a penis. Why am I looking at a giant penis?” I’m not saying that it doesn’t look like a penis. It totally does. However, as we’ve been taught from an early age, things aren’t always what we think they are. Case in point, this sculpture. What if I told you that this undeniably phallic-looking work of art is (supposedly) modeled after a photograph of a woman? Nobody was gonna get that on the first try. I didn’t, that’s for sure. That is the wonder of the works of Constantin Brancusi.

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) was a French-Romanian sculptor whose concentration was, as you might be able to guess, abstraction. He attended the Bucharest School of Fine Arts and studied sculpture. After learning of the works of Auguste Rodin, Brancusi traveled to Paris in 1904, where his first major work, The Kiss (1908), was created. He became internationally notable after exhibiting in New York City’s Armory Show in 1913. Brancusi’s works after The Kiss, such as Sleeping Muse (1912) became even more abstract. Two of his works were at the center of artistic controversy-Princess X was removed from Le Salon de Indépendants in 1920 on the grounds of obscenity, and Brancusi’s later work Bird In Space (1923) was refused the classification of “art” by the United States Customs office in 1926. Brancusi’s studio and the works within was bequeathed to the Museum of Art in Paris at Brancusi’s death, on the condition that it would be installed in its entirety.

Bird

Now, a bit more about Princess X. The jury seems to be out on who this is, or if it’s even modeled after anyone in particular. Some allege that this is a portrait of French princess Marie Bonaparte. Most of the articles I’ve looked through seem to at least agree on a feminine figure, if not a name. Encyclopedia Britannica reads that Princess X is “a portrait of an imaginary person that takes on a curiously phallic form.” The information in the catalog of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (where a polished bronze version  is housed) says that Brancusi, infuriated by the comparison of his work to a phallus, “ insisted the sculpture was a portrayal of a feminine ideal,” while the Guggenheim’s past exhibition catalog states that it was modeled after a woman craning her neck to look at herself in the mirror. This specific catalog goes on to read, “The neck is exaggerated in order to convey the self-awareness of this gesture. Dissatisfied with this version, Brancusi carved back the superficial details. The head became an ovoid on an arching neck and the supporting hand is reduced to a pattern.” (See? I do my research!)

Art will confuse you. It’s going to happen. You will look at a piece in a museum or gallery that will defy all logic in your brain, and you might short circuit if you try to make sense of it on your own (this happened to me when I started studying surrealism). That feeling of confusion, to me, is part of what makes this artist’s works so much fun to look at. Given so little as a title, you, as the viewer, are invited to look again at the form Brancusi has presented. Princess Xbecomes a bit more human. Bird In Space becomes an overly-simplified view of a bird flying sideways. His works are brilliant in its abstraction and simplicity.

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Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Central Florida.

 

 

Heroes Never Rust #38: The Next Generation

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Heroes Never Rust #38 by Sean Ironman

The Next Generation

I love the X-Men. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve read new comics, when I come back, I read X-Men comics. I follow them even when I’m not reading comics. One of the reasons I like them is that they aren’t just fighting to fight or fighting to save the world (even though that does happen as a byproduct many times). They fight to live. They fight for equality. In 2001, Marvel Comics brought on Grant Morrison, one of the industry’s leading creators, to write­ New X-Men. At once, Morrison brought the X-Men into the 21st century, by not only bringing in new concepts, but by taking the characters back to basics. It’s one of my favorite runs on an X-Men title. While some stories are better than others, I find all to be great and worth reading. I’ll be taking a look at the strongest X-Men story Morrison wrote over the next few weeks, “Riot at Xavier’s.”

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Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning is the focus of the story arc, and for much of Morrison’s run. While it may be difficult for fans of the X-Men movies to grasp this, but the X-Men’s school was not really used for many years before Morrison focused on it. It may have still been referred to as a school, but other than the danger room, it had long stopped feeling like any learning was going on there. In New X-Men, the school acted like a private boarding school, just focused on mutants. The students, especially a young telepath named Quentin Quire, are the focus of “Riot at Xavier’s.”

If the purpose of a school is to get students to think critically, then what happens when students come to different conclusions that their professors? That’s the basic idea behind the story arc. It opens with Jumbo Carnation, the best mutant designer in the world, being murdered by five men. The students hear about it and tension begins to build.

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Quentin has a run-in with another student, Slick, who wrote a song about Jumbo. Quentin doesn’t understand how writing a song about the man’s death will help in anyway. And quite honestly, I don’t either. I’m with Quentin on this. He’s very easy to relate to, and that makes the story more powerful. He wants action, He’s tired of the world he lives in. He’s tired of just accepting things the way they are. He gets called into Professor X’s office, and, by then, he’s fed up. “Well, I livein the brave new world and it’s not as shiny and perfect as you’d like to think. You’re always selling this future that never arrives, you preach Utopia but you never deliver on this “dream” we keep hearing about.” It can be easy to think like Quentin. How many times have we heard someone say racism doesn’t exist in the United States today? Of course, it still exists. Everyday people experience racism in this country. We hear that things are getting better. And they are, in a way. But things still aren’t great. It can be easy to get fed up with the world. And Quentin does. He’s tired of waiting for this world he was promised. He’s going to take it.

In the end, at least as of the first issue, he doesn’t attack anyone. He doesn’t strike out against the world. He gets a haircut. It might not sound that bad, and in the end it isn’t. But it’s a start. He gets his hair cut to match an article that was in the Daily Bugle many years before, when the mutant “problem” was just beginning. The article is titled “Mutant Menace! Are they for real?” It features a picture of mutants with whips in a destroyed city. A threatening image of the future. Quentin starts his rebellion by taking back the offensive imagery and making it his own. It’s an empowering act for the young man. The first issue is just the build-up to the riot. Other than Jumbo Carnation’s death in the opening two pages, there’s no violence, no big villain fights. Just a boy who’s tired of being told the world is a better place

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.

In Boozo Veritas #38: Dylan Thomas, and Words That Leave Us Dumb

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In Boozo Veritas #38 by Teege Braune

Dylan Thomas:

Words That Leave Us Dumb

On November ninth, 1953, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, already decrepit and ill at the age only thirty-nine years old, took a drink and had another. “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies. I think that’s a record!” he announced and then fell forward dead at the table of his favorite New York City pub The White Horse Tavern; a fitting, legendary end for a man who cultivated his own legend as a drunken passionate rogue, philanderer, and doomed poet, a man prone to creating his own tall tales such as his claim that he and long suffering wife Caitlin Macnamara were in bed together ten minutes after meeting each other. Macnamara’s own assessment of her relationship with Thomas was less romanticized. “But ours was a drink story, not a love story, just like millions of others. Our one and only true love was drink. The bar was our altar,” she wrote in her 1997 autobiography My Life with Dylan Thomas: Double Drink Story. “Is the bloody man dead yet?” she asked as she arrived at St. Vincent’s Hospital were Thomas was lying in a coma from which he would not awaken. Perhaps a more fitting legend of the poet’s death is that, though alcohol had compromised his health in more ways than one, his autopsy revealed that his liver showed no signs of cirrhosis, the opposite of what everyone believed. In fact, Thomas’ final coup d’état came from pneumonia exacerbated by a preexisting lung condition. While alcohol may have endorsed his demise, it was not the actual assassin.

Despite his love affair with alcohol, its presence in Thomas’ work is limited and intermittent. Death, on the other hand, is the obsession to which he returns time and time again. His poetry chronicles an ambivalent relationship with the inevitable. In much of his most famous work, including “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower,” “After the Funeral (In memory of Ann Jones),” and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” amongst others, Thomas rails against his own demise and that of his loved ones all the while acknowledging the futility of such a lament. In “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” he says that

“Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.”

We see death portrayed, not only as a necessity and final conclusion of our birth, but furthermore, a moral action; it is the correct thing to do. And yet we know that in that “good night” our failings are made manifest; our deeds crumble as we are forgotten by those who survive us. In the end, our words, for all their weight and sanctity, were no more than words; they “forked no lightning.” If this was the fear of a poet of Thomas’ unfathomable caliber, then what hope do the rest of us have? Having memorized “Do No Go Gentle into That Good Night” years ago, I often recite it at bars as a litmus test of my own intoxication. If I can get through the final “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” without losing my place or forgetting a verse, I’ll order another drink. If I can’t finish the poem, I know it’s time to find a ride home. In other moments, I ignore my own advice and, overwhelmed by my own desire to “burn and rave at close of day,” I take a cue from the doomed bard and push through past the final horizon of decorum and good sense.

Poet Robert Lowell said of Dylan Thomas, “He is a dazzling obscure writer who can be enjoyed without understanding.” This was indeed my own experience when I first heard my English literature professor Jim Watt read “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower” with a steady, emotional resonance that rivaled Richard Burton and gave me chills as he crawled towards that final image of the crooked worm. A mild, sunny day in early spring had inspired Jim to drag us all outside and there among blossoming flowers and budding trees he found an idyllic location in which to share this poem with a bunch of nineteen year olds, the same age Thomas was when he wrote it. I had been discovering and devouring literature faster than I could process it, but these words left an indelible mark on my imagination. When I came home for spring break I read it to my mom who responded that she didn’t understand a word of it. I admitted that I didn’t either, but loved it anyway. Over a decade later, having read it an uncountable number of times, I now think it is deceptively simple in its meaning, which is, in utterly complex language, an admission of the poet’s own lack of understanding. He sees the connection between his own youth and the fragile burgeoning flower, the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration, the force that drives and destroys everything without judgment or preference, that unites all, living and dying, into one existence, and he says in the face of this overwhelming epiphany that is no revelation, enlightening without revealing, “I am dumb to tell…”

If Caitlin was Thomas’ third love and alcohol his second, his true romance was with words. Thomas had said of discovering nursery rhymes as a child, “before I could read them for myself I had come to love the words of them. The words alone. What the words stood for was of a very secondary importance…” This is a poet who was never writing for the purpose of being understood in the first place. “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower” may simply tell us what Thomas doesn’t know, but it does so in the most breathtakingly beautiful way imaginable. The rhythm, the enigmatic images, every word in every line is immaculate. If a life has meaning, it is most likely a meaning one has wrought out of it, perhaps unnaturally. Most likely this meaning is less significant than the simple fact of the life itself. What’s for certain is that at the moment of our inevitable deaths, the meanings to which we once clung will be lost forever. In Dylan Thomas’ incredible poems we find many meanings, most of which are constantly in flux, endlessly debated; more importantly, we find words. Words collected, adored, beaten, cursed, blessed, and finally arranged in such a way that they do indeed fork lightning, defeat death, and transcend personal legend.

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Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

 

 

Areas of Fog #14: Narcissus

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Areas of Fog #14 by Will Dowd

Narcissus

Just a quick note to say that spring doesn’t care about us.

It certainly doesn’t care about human time. It keeps its own clock and it comes when it comes.

Yes, spring came this week—after a final, undignified coating of snow on Wednesday morning—but not because the spokes of the Gregorian and liturgical calendars seemed to align serendipitously. Spring doesn’t care that Sunday is Easter, or that Monday is the Boston Marathon, or that Tuesday I celebrated the tenth anniversary of a near-death experience (crosswalk, minivan). It doesn’t care about the theme of resurrection.

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Spring is an inhuman affair. A paroxysm in Nature. A manic procedure that operates beneath our perception like cellular regeneration. And yet we feel it—the shadowy intuition of a hundred million hands, tiny and invisible, pushing upwards and outwards, all culminating in the shuddering eruption of a daffodil.

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I once had a poetry professor with the wild hair and chunky rings of a fortune teller. During class one April afternoon, while the first wave of pollen was dusting the campus outside, her eyes unfocused and she wondered aloud, “How many more springs will each of you get?”

It was the kind of carpe diem sentiment one is liable to hear in a poetry class. But the motto didn’t work its revitalizing magic on me. It never does.

Spring is here, but it doesn’t care about me. Or you. Or poetry.

We don’t seize the day. The day seizes us.

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Will Dowd 2

Will Dowd (episode 91) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

 

Episode 95: Rick Moody 2!

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Episode 95 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to fiction writer and one-time memoirist Rick Moody,

Rick Moody at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Photo by John King.

Plus I share his prose reading “Metal,” with music by One Ring Zero.

One Ring Zero

TEXTS DISCUSSED

 Read Rick Moody’s 14,000 word essay about David Bowie’s The Next Day here.

The Black Veil

The Four Fingers of Death

David Bowie's The Next Day

As Smart as We Are
 Nigh Sleep Death

John Lee Hooker, putting The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, in their places, when he was 72 years old.

This soundtrack with John Lee Hooker playing with Miles Davis is deliciously good.

Hot Spot Soundtrack

Check out Episode 39, with my first interview with Rick, here.

NOTES

gabriel-garcia-marquez

 R.I.P., Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

St Marks Bookshop

Check out this indiegogo crowd-sourcing effort to bring St. Mark’s Bookshop to a new home in the East Village.

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 Episode 95 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #36: DOA

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The Curator of Schlock #36 by Jeffrey Shuster

DOA: Dead or Alive

Ninja Ninja Ninja

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 I remember an episode of Kung Fu The Legend Continues where the bad guy (who I also believe was Kwai Chang Caine’s half-brother) was gathering an army of reincarnated villains from Earth’s history. There was this one dude who was supposed to be the reincarnated Jack the Ripper and this lady who was supposed to be the reincarnated Lizzie Borden. Anyway, I think the bad buy had some magic pendant or bell, and was hoping to channel the forces of darkness to become all-powerful or something. Caine stops him and all is right with the world once again.

You know, super-villains in kung fu movies don’t always have to use sorcery to achieve their ends. I can think of no finer example than 2006′s DOA: Dead Or Alive from director Corey Yuen. In the movie, Dr. Victor Donovan (Eric Roberts) has opted for science as his means for world domination. Using nano-bots, he will record the fighting moves of the greatest martial artists from around the world and download them into a pair of sunglasses.

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With those sunglasses, he’ll become the ultimate, unstoppable fighter. Before all that of course, he’ll need a tournament to lure the best fighters in the world to his island paradise.

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And who are these martial artists? There’s Kasumi, a shinobi ninja princess (Devon Aoki) who leaves her ninja clan to attend DOA to find out what happened to her missing brother, Hayate. Hot on her trail is Ayane, a ninja assassin sworn to kill Kasumi if she leaves the clan. Another ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, follows Kasumi to the tournament to also investigate what happened to her brother. I think he was her brother’s best friend. He may also have a crush on Kasumi, but that neither here nor there.

We also have Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly), a superstar pro wrestler who wants to prove to the world that she isn’t fake.

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Her father, Bass Armstrong (Kevin Nash) was also invited to the tournament and he doesn’t have a problem with being a superstar pro wrestler. They fight on a raft in the middle of a pond and Tina wins, moving herself up in the tournament. There’s also another contestant by the name of Zack who keeps flirting with her. She knocks him into a stone railing as a reward.

Let’s see. Who else? There’s Christie (Holly Valance), a master thief and assassin.

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She and her lover, Matthew, have decided to attend the tournament because of the millions that lie hidden on the island somewhere. There’s also Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter), the daughter of the man who invented the nano-bots that will help Dr. Donovan take over the world. Dr. Donovan had Helena’s father murdered, but she doesn’t learn that until much later in the movie. One of the computer geeks has a big old crush on Helena. She also wears roller blades.

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I guess I’m supposed to be going somewhere with this review, but there are just too many characters. Needless to say, Eric Roberts gets his butt kicked by the end of the movie.

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Plus, there’s a scene where the lady fighters play volleyball on the beach, with an official DOA-labeled ball and net. What more could you ask for from a kung fu masterpiece?

Five Things I Learned from DOA: Dead or Alive

  1. Don’t let evil scientists inject you with nano-bots. They’re not doing it for your benefit.
  2. Supervillians tend to stash their cash in giant Buddha heads.
  3. Ninja assassins don’t mess around. They’ll actually try to kill you.
  4. If you see imaginary cherry blossoms float about in front of your eyes, it means you’re in love.
  5. Corey Yuen did the impossible. He made a movie out of the DOA Dead or Alive video games.

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Jeffrey Shuster 2

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.

 

Heroes Never Rust #37: Man or Monster?

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Heroes Never Rust #37 by Sean Ironman

Man or Monster?

Ben Grimm, aka The Thing, is the focus of the final issue of Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules. The cover is of Ben unconscious with a bloody lip and with a small panel of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman laughing at The Thing who’s on his knees and covering his face in defeat. The issue begins with Ben’s girlfriend smashing dinner plates, telling him to rot in hell, and storming out. While this could be thought of as Ben’s issue, the opening is layered with Reed Richards’s interiority.

“Science relies upon observation. The more data one collects, the more likely one can predict future behavior. But what happens when behavior belies all known data? When there is chaos where there should be order? Must I surrender to the premise that the only constant is randomness and instability? Can I accept these implications of how illusionary the world we’ve conjured for ourselves is? How easily it can come apart?”

We’re never told why these characters are in the situation in which we find them. We get hints about Ben Grimm’s time during the war. We don’t know why Reed is dating Susan. Or why Susan would want to date Reed. Or what happened to Susan and Johnny’s parents. They are all messed up and can’t see their way out. Susan flirts unsuccessfully with a young colleague of Reed’s. Ben unsuccessfully hits on a woman at a diner. Reed wants to marry Susan and practices his proposal even though it’s obvious he doesn’t even understand love.

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Reed wants to organize life. Everything must have a purpose, must make sense. He doesn’t understand the world and attempts to figure out it out. He wants to sit and watch from the outside.

But that’s what he comes to learn. There is no observer in life. He’s a part of it. Reed runs late to the dinner party Susan throws for Reed and his colleagues. By the time he arrives, he finds Susan and Ben in the bedroom making out. It wasn’t planned. Susan and Ben weren’t sneaking around behind Reed’s back this whole time. Actually, Ben is more remorseful over what happened than Susan. So many things had to happen to get the two to that point. So many random things.

Susan finds Johnny gone (He’s on the beach getting beaten up from issue three). Reed’s running late. Ben can’t fit into the crowd downstairs and searches for Susan, who’s crying over Johnny having run off. Reed comes home two minutes after Ben and Susan start kissing. It just happens to be the night Reed wanted to propose to Susan.

In many stories, these coincidences wouldn’t work, or at least would feel more contrived. Coincidences can be difficult to write. Characters decisions should drive the story forward. But Unstable Molecules is able to manage it because the coincidences still revolve around characters’ choices and it becomes part of the story, instead of trying to trick the reader into not noticing.

Johnny is gone because Johnny chose to run off. Reed chooses to propose. Ben chooses to come to the party and look for Susan. Susan chooses to kiss Ben. They all happen in the same night because that’s life. What one person does affects another person. We’re not separate creatures. We share the same space. Our lives pull and push against other lives. We’re connected.

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That’s what Reed had wrong this whole time. He realizes he was studying life from afar instead of realizing he’s a part of it. His life affects another life. It might seem like coincidence or randomness at first. But it’s not. Everyone is in control of the choices they make, but those choices affect more people than just that one person. A choice I make today affects someone else. In turn, what that person does affects a third. And so on down the line. We’re not bouncing off of one another. We’re bound together.

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.

In Boozo Veritas #37: Words and Whiskey

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In Boozo Veritas #37 by Teege Braune

Words and Whiskey

Small Batch

Two of Cups Press’ collection of bourbon-inspired poetry called Small Batch begins with a brief description and history of bourbon followed by this short piece by David S. Atkinson entitled  “A Bourbon Poetry Submission,”

I heard this press wanted poems about

bourbon.

This confused me, because I thought

bourbon

was already a poem.

Bourbon, like poetry, is something that should be savored, enjoyed slowly. A connoisseur will return to her favorite examples over and over again throughout her life. When done well, poetry and bourbon are both highly nuanced with a complexity that requires a meditative examination. Some are of the mindset that bourbon and poetry should both be reserved for special occasions. Others, like John King and myself, see this as blasphemy and consume either as often as is humanly possible. Sour mash and white dog can be seen as the various drafts a distiller has to go through to achieve a signature product, just as a poet must rewrite a piece several times before it’s publishable. If you want to take a more mystical approach, both bourbon and poetry go through a kind of transubstantiation, a handful of unspectacular ingredients that, through craft and perhaps at times sheer luck or divine intervention, become something much greater than the sum of their parts. Poetry is a smattering of symbols with no inherent meaning, arranged in such a manner as to bring forth, inexplicably, image, music, language at its most significant. Bourbon contains the same mystery. It isn’t just the alcohol derived from distillation, a process any chemistry major understands and can duplicate; it is the ineffable quality that comes from aging 51% corn based alcohol in new, charred oak barrels. Alcohol aged in anything else is not bourbon and inferior for that reason. It is why all the best bourbons still come from a small geographical area in northern Kentucky.

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But I digress. A distiller must follow strict guidelines to even legally market a whiskey as bourbon. Poetry, on the other hand, is more elusive a term, and the pieces collected in Small Batch exemplify this in their range and diversity. While many of the poems in this collection follow the American free-verse tradition and the confessional tone so popular with the post-MFA crowd, others experiment with voice and style such as Briana Gervat’s “Bourbon Style Green Eggs and Ham,” an amusing, adult-oriented parody of Dr. Seuss’ classic. Not unexpectedly, some of the work goes down like a shot of Old Crow,

Old Crow

harsh, unrefined, a bit painful, the only appeal being that any poetry, like bourbon, is better than no poetry at all, but you’ll be glad you endured these moments when you come to gems like Jeremy Dae Paden’s two poems “Smooth Pour” and “The Story of Uncle Frank,” truly top shelf work reminiscent of that deliciously obscure bottle one pulls out to wow friends at social gatherings. If you are expecting a collection of Bukowski knockoffs, look elsewhere. The Bard of Debauchery shows his influence here and there, winking slyly in Erin Elizabeth Smith’s “Drinking Poem” and Jude C. McPherson’s “Neat.” On the other hand, much of this work stands completely outside of Bukowski’s legacy. This anthology demonstrates that the nexus between bourbon and poetry is much larger than the romanticized notion of an alcoholic writer, though that character has a time and a place as well. As the unifying factor of every poem of this collection, bourbon takes on a myriad of roles: as an aspect of cultural identity in Ellen Hagan’s “Kentucky – You Be,” welcomed antagonist in Peter Fong’s “A Thirsty Man Considers his Future,” poetic muse in Parneshia Jones’ “Ode to Bourbon: A Writer’s Distillery,” and simply one lovely detail amongst many in Annette Spaulding-Convy’s incredible “The Spaulding-Criss-Potter-Craig-Sherer-Smith-Walker Women Ponder the Corrals They’ve Built Inside.”

Small Batch’s introduction invites us to “Pour a shot, open a page, and drink it in.” While the poems are divided into lose sections cleverly titled “drawing confessions,” “crack the wax,” “bourbon-strong fist,” “whatever’s open has to go,” and “this want travels,” nothing compels the reader to read these poems in any particular order. Reading any poetry anthology cover to cover is kind of like sampling from every bottle of a prodigious bourbon collection in a single evening. Discovering something new, returning to an old favorite, these are the twin joys of bourbon and poetry. Scan the shelf, pull off any bottle that strikes you for no good reason; peruse the table of contents, grab a title at random. I, for one, am finishing off the bottle of Elmer T. Lee that my brother gave me for Christmas two years ago while revisiting this delightful collection on a Sunday afternoon, as good a time as any for drinking and poetry. We all have our priorities, and I’m grateful for artists, distillers and poets alike, who take the time to create those things that make life worth living.

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Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

 

Areas of Fog #13: Orange Peels

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Areas of Fog #13 by Will Dowd

Orange Peels

Earlier this week, I stood on the warm sands of New Smyrna Beach. While the Florida sun searched for a chink in my 100 SPF, I watched my friend drift lazily out to sea on the rolling carpet of a rip current. The lifeguard, who’d been whistling like a lunatic for minutes, grabbed a bullhorn and squawked dire warnings. A hundred sunbathers lifted their heads to see what was the matter.

“She’ll be fine,” I told the lifeguard. “She hiked the Appalachian trail, alone.”

Soon enough, my friend started swimming sideways and then kicked her way to shore, wringing out her hair as she emerged from the waves, looking bored if anything.

Florida is as much a part of New England winter as burst pipes. We all go Florida at some point. Even if we have to hike there, alone.

Even Irish immigrants in the early 1900s made the trek from Boston. I know this because I have a trove of letters written between my great-grandmother Nora and her cousin Mary. In the winter of 1913, Mary managed to get a job as a waitress at the Ormond Hotel—about 20 miles north of New Smyrna Beach.

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“The climate here is beautiful,” she wrote to Nora. “The grass is so green and there are great big fields that we cross on our way to the Beach. I eat about 15 oranges a day. We can pluck them off the tree when walking along the roads. They are as common here as crab apples in the harvest in Ireland.”

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I don’t know how I ended up with these letters. I vaguely remember hearing that Nora was a voracious reader partial to Shakespeare and the possessor of a sharp wit that she declined to muzzle. I like to think of Mary walking the same Florida beach as me on her day off, reading Nora’s letters while sitting on a dune, peeling an orange.

My friends and I stayed at a house in Deland, about thirty minutes inland. Geckos skittered over mesh screens. Catfish lurked in a backyard lake. After dark the lake became the stage for a night symphony with a brooding string section of Palmetto bugs and a chorus of frogs, whose grunted mating calls are definitive proof of erotic subjectivity.

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Three or four times the first night, I thought I heard knuckles rapping on my windowpane. The next day, when I walked outside, a Sandhill Crane approached me on dainty, backward-bending legs, bowed slightly, then glared at me expectantly. He had a stripe of neon red warpaint on his forehead and a beak like a bayonet.

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I refused to give him a piece of my bagel. He tiptoed away, as if from the scene of a crime. I knew he’d been the one wrapping at my window. Poe had a raven; I had a Sandhill Crane.

But Florida is more than just a superabundance of sun and species. The air itself is a substance, a primordial soup in which everything swims. In Florida things feel connected. The humidity is metaphysical. The Spanish moss swings eerily. There are legends, ghosts. I dipped one foot in De Leon Springs—a conical green pool rumored to be Ponce’s long-sought Fountain of Youth. (I’ll let you know if one of my feet fails to age.)

My friends and I also made a pilgrimage to Cassadaga—a small, isolated town inhabited almost exclusively by psychics and mediums who, despite the sticky heat, wore tan suits and floral dresses.

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We soon found ourselves in a church hall, sitting quietly in folding chairs, wondering if the medium pacing the room would alight on our lost, loitering ancestors. I got picked, of course. The medium saw a woman bobbing beside me—an older, opinionated, rather heavyset woman handing me books. Unfortunately, all my female relatives are still on this side of the veil. And frighteningly thin.

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Only later, on the plane home to dry, chilly, sane New England, did I think of Nora and wonder about her waistline.

I did some digging when I got back and came across an old photo.

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Out of respect and fear, I’ll keep my metaphysical conclusion to myself.

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 Will Dowd

Will Dowd (episode 91) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

 

 

Episode 94: Eleanor Lerman!

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Episode 94 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to the poet Eleanor Lerman,

Eleanor Lerman

Plus Alden Jones writes about her time working in Cuba.

Alden Jones TEXTS DISCUSSED 

Strange Life

The Blonde on the Train

The Sensual World Emerges

Our Post Soviet History Unfolds

The Spice Box of Earth

The Blind Masseuse

Check out episode 48 to hear Eleanor Lerman’s essay about Leonard Cohen’s Spice Box of Earth.

NOTES 

Check out the indiegogo crowd-sourcing effort to bring St. Mark’s Bookshop to a new home in the East Village. Endorsed by this show and Anne Waldman.

I recommend Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of Julius Caesar, playing until April 20th.

Caesar

Check out Beating Windward Press’s call for essays for its forthcoming essay collection, The Things They Did For Money: How Writers, Artists, and Creatives Support the Habit.

___________

 Episode 94 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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