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.

 ___________

 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.

___________

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.

___________

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.

___________

 

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.

___________

 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.

The Curator of Schlock #35: Mortal Kombat

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The Curator of Schlock #35 by Jeffrey Shuster

Mortal Kombat = Mortal Komplicated!

Okay. Time to roll out the big guns (err, fists) with 1995′s Mortal Kombat from director Paul W. S. Anderson.

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Oh man. Where do I even begin? Mortal Kombat was the game back the mid 90s. I remember getting my copy of Mortal Kombat II for Super Nintendo at the Suncoast Video in the mall for $59.99. It came with three posters and a cassete tape with the Mortal Kombat theme song on it. Cool beans! But then the Mortal Kombat movie came a few months later and, well, it was a movie. Or a two-hour music video. Ah, who cares? It’s Mortal Kombat!

What’s the plot? The evil sorcerer Shang Tsung is gathering the best martial artists from around the world so he can steal their souls and become all-powerful. He’s joined by Kano, a criminal cyborg, a pair of Chinese assassins named Scorpion and Sub-Zero, and Goro, a big, monster dude with four arms.

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The good guys are led by Raiden, the Chinese god of thunder (obviously, Christopher Lambert).

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Liu Kang, a Shaolin monk, Johnny Cage, a hotshot Hollywood action star, and Sonya Blade, a Special Forces officer are the film’s protagonists.

This makes things confusing since there are three of them and I don’t know which one I’m supposed to root for. Sonya kills Kano by breaking his neck (they don’t build cyborgs like they used to). Johnny Cage takes out Scorpion (who is really scary since he’s like ghost/undead guy who can breathe fire out of his mouth). Liu Kang fights Sub-Zero and puts him on ice (Ha!). Goro turns out to be rather intimidating since he can grab contestants with his lower arms and pound them with the other two. Johnny Cage avoids this fate by punching Goro in the sweet spot and sending him plummeting over a cliff.

I guess by this point Shang Tsung is getting impatient so he kidnaps Sonja Blade and flees to Outworld, another planet or another dimension or something to that effect.

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It’s the place where all the scary bad guys come from. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Shang Tsung isn’t from Earth. He serves the Emperor of Outworld, a mysterious figure who wants to conquer Earth for nefarious purposes. The emperor also has sexy daughter, Princess Kitana, who’s decided to aid Liu Kang in his quest to do something something. Aargh! I can’t keep track of any of this! Why do they have to make movies so complicated?

The highlight fight in the movie is Liu Kang vs. Reptile. There’s something to be said about a watching a guy get kicked through a brick wall, especially when he gets kicked in the face right after getting through the brick wall. It’s the little things life that something something.

 Ten Thing I Learned from Mortal Kombat

  1. Don’t trust shape-shifting sorcerers.
  2. When the shape shifting sorcerer turns into your dead brother right before your eyes, it’s not really your dead brother.
  3. Christopher Lambert is good in anything.
  4. You don’t get second chances in Mortal Kombat…unless you’re playing the video game.
  5. Bad guys love to mess with Shaolin monks. Just ask Kwai Chang Caine!
  6. Cyborgs with Australian accents are more intimidating than cyborgs with American accents.
  7. Techno music always accompanies kung fu battles.
  8. Don’t fight a monster dude with four arms. Just don’t do it.
  9. Don’t fight a guy who can freeze you to death with his bare hands.
  10. Don’t enter tournaments hosted by soul eating sorcerers.

___________

Jeffrey Shuster 2

Photo by Leslie Salas.

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

 

Heroes Never Rust #36: The Playboy

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Heroes Never Rust #36 by Sean Ironman

The Playboy

The third issue of Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules switches things up, and, instead of the point of view character being a member of the Fantastic Four, the point of view character is Johnny Sturm’s best friend, Richard Mannelman. I’m a fan of stories where the protagonist is not the point of view character, and this is no exception. In the regular Marvel Universe, Johnny is popular with women and enjoys the team’s popularity in pop culture. People look up to him, so it’s fitting to see Johnny through the eyes of Mannelman.

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The two are pretty normal boys for the 1950s. They get bullied. They try desperately to see sexualized women, regardless of whether they are nude or not. They search for something new. The difference between the two is that Johnny is lost but still has something going for him. He’s bored with the town, but he could easily be one of the popular kids. “Johnny could have been popular—he could fix cars and girls thought he was cute. And yet he hung out with me.” Mannelman, on the other hand, has nothing. He has no other friends, no real skills to speak of, no real family. It’s a sad life, and because of it, he clings to Johnny, hoping that when Johnny makes his way in the world that he’ll take Mannelman with him.

In the end, Johnny has the turning point, not Mannelman. Johnny decides to split town, to “escape for good.” He doesn’t quite make it this issue due to some bullies catching up with him. The issue ends with Mannelman and Johnny getting beaten on the beach. But Mannelman isn’t upset about the scuffle. “If they broke all of our bones then Johnny couldn’t go. He’d have to stay. Stay with me. In Glen Cove.”

Reed and Ben don’t appear this issue, and Sue’s only in it briefly. But that makes sense, even in the regular universe, because Johnny started as a person more concerned with goofing off and with the fame then whatever serious things the others were going through. This issue also heavily features an old boyfriend of Sue’s named Joey King. A beat poet, Joey is back in town briefly and ends up convincing Johnny that he needs to leave town.

At the end of each issue, the writer, James Sturm, includes fictional information about his research. This issue features spotlights for Joey King and Mannelman. Joey’s writing is described as a pale imitation of Jack Kerouac and that he was “a minor beat poet at best.” James Sturm was unable to find Joey for an interview. Turns out (although fictionally) that Mannelman wrote a book called Hot Times and Hot Rods, My High School Years with the Human Torch. That book was his claim to fame. In a way, he did follow Johnny out of Glen Cove. James Sturm did try to interview the now fifty-two-year-old Mannelman for the comic and describes a scene in Mannelman’s New York apartment where Mannelman refuses to answer questions ,and then Mannelman’s mother calls from the other room. It was a sad scene, and made all the sadder with the photo accompanying the article of Mannelman as an adult overweight and with glasses. He looks like the cliché comic book nerd.

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Mannelman and Joey King wanted fame. Mannelman focused on Johnny. King focused on Kerouac. Both became blips on the cultural landscape. King published a few poems and started a failed artist’s commune. Mannelman became an author, although his only book was about his old friend. Johnny became the famous one—the basis for a member of the Fantastic Four. But even with that, no one gave a shit about Johnny Sturm, other than someone using him as a superhero. In Joey King’s section at the back of the issue, James Sturm wrote, “King’s lasting contribution was the inspiration he provided for others.” That seems to be the case with everyone. Johnny inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create the Human Torch and Mannelman to write his book, which added to this James Sturm’s tale. Joey King inspired other artists and beatniks. Perhaps the only escape a person can really have is through inspiration.

___________

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 #36: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

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In Boozo Veritas #36 by Teege Braune

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

It is a shame that no one can talk about Edward FitzGerald’s best selling nineteenth century poem The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám without weighing in on the famous controversy surrounding the former’s admittedly un-literal translation of the Persian poets original quatrains. The never ending debate about FitzGerald’s poetic license and the accusations that he puts blasphemies in the mouth of a highly moral and devoutly religious intellectual by way of espousing alcoholism as means of overcoming life’s existential dilemma are perfect examples of scholarship missing the poetry by focusing on the minutia surrounding it, and indeed, FitzGerald by way of Khayyám, comments on the uselessness of such activities in the very poem inspiring them:

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discussed

Of the Two Worlds so wisely – they are thrust

Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn

Are scattered, and their Mouths are stopped with Dust.

What’s more, attempts at “proper” translations, such as Robert Graves’ clunky, self-righteous blunder, have routinely failed to match the poetic beauty of FitzGerald’s own. On the other hand, Sufi scholar Abdullah Dougan has championed FitzGerald’s translation as the instrument Allah chose to introduce Sufism to the west. While I have deep respect for Sufism and find Dougan’s assertion that the poem is “divine inspiration… a miracle,” appealing on some levels, I do not care for interpretations of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám as a religious text and would, in fact, argue that it is the opposite.

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Others who revere FitzGerald’s translation, or “transmogrification” as he referred to it, for its poetic achievement often misinterpret it as pessimistic and fatalistic, summing it up as an elaborate expression of the sentiment, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we’ll die.” Never mind that truncating a 404 lined poem into a cliche misses the point and joy of poetry in the first place, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is much more than the barroom philosophy of some simple-minded hedonist. While the poem certainly does come to the conclusion that perpetual indulgence in wine is the best way to live, it only does so after rigorous attempts to understand the nature of life and death, God, and our own purpose in this world have proved futile. Omar, as the narrator of FitzGerald’s interpretation, if not the historical and original poet, spends as much time discussing his own folly as a student of philosophy and theology, referring to the afterlife as “the Veil through which I might not see” and comparing humanity to clay pots in that both are made of earth, exist as empty vessels, and one day are returned to the dust and forgotten, as he does in drunken revelry.

When I discovered this poem as a young man of nineteen, I was going through a similar existential crisis as FitzGerald’s Khayyám. I had recently left Christianity due to a personal lack of faith, which I saw as a rejection by a Calvinist God, and discovered my own love of all things fermented including, if not especially, the grape. The certainty of my own death was terrifying to me.

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For the first time in my life I could not cling to some approximation of Heaven to cushion the blow of its mystery. Alcohol, I found, eased the discomfort of this anxiety. Studying The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám allowed me to see drinking not as an easy escape hatch, but rather the ecstatic celebration of life that it can be. Omar is not hiding from hard truths and difficult questions. When he says,

Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before

I swore – but was I sober when I swore?

And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand

My threadbare Penitence apieces tore.

we can see that he is past fear. He has left those concerns behind to revel in the hear and now. What better way to do this than by drinking wine?

In class I grew frustrated with my colleagues who interpreted The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám as a symbol of communion, who equated the wine with the blood of Christ. This interpretation ignores Omar’s regular and devastating criticisms of religion and a legalistic deity who would “Sue for a Debt he never did contract, / And cannot answer…” And yet, communion may be closer to Khayyám’s or FitzGerald’s meaning than base hedonism. I have always found it disturbing that scholars of English literature, a group trained to look for metaphors and symbolism, are so quick to take Omar’s wine at face value. Perhaps every reader of The Rubáiyát will not be an oenophile. I do not think that this needs detract from the value or beauty of the poem; wine is the perfect stand-in for joy. Around the same time FitzGerald was transmogrifying Khayyám’s Rubáiyát, the French poet Charles Baudelaire was commanding his readers to get drunk “with wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please!” Neither poets are equating drunkenness with sloppy inebriation; on the contrary, it is associated with an all-encompassing, passionate exuberance.

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His contributions to algebra, geometry, and astronomy are widely celebrated, but little is known about the personal life of the historical Omar Khayyám. He was a skilled poet in his native Persian and wrote over a thousand quatrains, some that look like this. When FitzGerald’s translation of a few of these quatrains introduced Khayyám to the western world, undoubtedly a romanticized interest in Orientalism in Victorian England led to its immense popularity. The exoticness of Omar Khayyám’s name was all these early western readers needed to know about him. Over a century later, scholars continue to argue whether or not he was a deeply religious orthodox Muslim, a mystically inclined Sufi, or FitzGerald’s fellow agnostic, a man who, like myself, craved earthly joy is lieu of cosmic security. Wine is often used as a symbol for divine communion in Sufi poetry as it is in Christian liturgy and pagan Dionysian-cult rituals, and yet for Omar, at least FitzGerald’s Omar, wine is not transcendent. It is of earthly origin for the pleasure of humanity, ourselves earthly beings made of the same clay as the cups from which we drink, in which the grape grows. Understanding this struck me as pessimistic at one time in my life, but now I see it as mysticism and materialism in perfect synchronicity. Religion, a promise of heaven, these may bring joy to lives of other people, but for me:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, of Loaf of Bread – and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness -

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

___________

Teege at Grand Floridian

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.

 

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