Mary South’s You Will Never Be Forgotten is an excellent collection of high concept short stories, usually having something to do with the intersection of technology and being human—energetic literary fiction that sometimes collides with sci-fi, or something even more interesting that I can’t put my finger on; I just think of them as Mary South stories. A clone named Keith, being harvested for his internal organs, is also an object of love; a person who works as an online content scrubber lashes back at a venture capitalist who sexually assaulted them; a devastated mother resurrects a deceased daughter with new tech. I loved this book. I read it on an airplane right before Covid-19 quarantine happened and was in awe after every story, “Oh this one will be a movie someday.” “Oh this one could, too.” “Oh they should make six movies out of this one.” Mary South has big ideas but cares just as much about her sentences and her characters. There’s a big heartbeat, a big pulse of life running though the veins of her writing. She’s an idiosyncratic, singular voice out there, telling radical stories about normal people thrust into a strange changing world. What else can I say? When I finished You Will Never Be Forgotten and got off the airplane, things were beginning to shut down for the coronavirus. I wanted to know more about Mary South and how she creates her unique stories. Instead of meeting up in person in the city, like I’m sure we would have done, and recording the conversation over a few beers, the questioning turned to telephone calls and emails and google docs and on and on, at least we didn’t have to do any Zooms. All right. Well, I’m always interested in where artists come from, so I guess we’ll begin there. The first thing I learned about Mary South is that she grew up in a small town called Rosemount. There were a lot of woods, she says. It was quiet.

 

Mary South: My mother is from Northern Minnesota, another small town called Starbuck. She has the strong accent and everything. She comes from a long line of farmers. She’s told me both some pretty harrowing and funny stories about farm work.

 

Bud Smith: What happened on the farm?

 

MS: When she was a child, my mother became attached to this calf, which she named Velvet because its coat was so soft. She still brings up sometimes how she showed up after school one day on the farm to see it, but Velvet had been shipped off to the slaughterhouse for veal. This anecdote will often segue into how my great-great-grandmother walked heavily pregnant behind a covered wagon for weeks until they reached northern Minnesota and started farming back in the 1800s.

My mother’s uncle Claude managed the farm for decades until he died and it was finally sold. He could toss a bale of hay with one arm into his tractor even when he was very old. Those bales are heavy, a hundred pounds or more. We would visit him on occasion when I was a kid; on one such trip, he whispered to me that he believed aliens were living underneath the surface of the earth. I told my mother about it later, and she said, “Oh, Claude was just messing with you.” I think he had a bit of a diabolical sense of humor.

Photo credit: Giuliana Maresca

So, the title, “Lullabies for End Times”…

Pure coincidence. If you believe in that kind of thing.

The tuner bird now nests,
now thrums,
in its cage of bone.
Plays harp of cat gut strings
by the red light
that dictates my resonant streams.
Sisyphean translator
at the first breath’s strum.
That sought to home
that homed to seek
from its first beat—
under the weight of words
and through that escape room of language
that forever unhomes.

Delitas(n., Spanish) crimes.

Escuela Superior Mecánica de la Armada,
Buenos Aires, August 8, 2018.


i.

Hard to resist the word’s resemblance
to “delights,” but knowing it can’t be,
I look it up after reading it over
and over on plaques stationed here
and there in this naval base turned
detention center. Bare except for the faces
stenciled across walls, blurbs about
terror, death flights, bodies
washing up in the Rio de la Plata.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Wayne Koestenbaum. His new essay collection, Figure It Out, is available from Soft Skull Press.

 
Koestenbaum has published nineteen books, including Camp Marmalade, Notes on Glaze, The Pink Trance Notebooks, My 1980s & Other Essays, Hotel Theory, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films, Andy Warhol, Humiliation,and Jackie Under My Skin. His essays and poems have been widely published in periodicals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, The Best American Essays, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, London Review of Books, The Believer, The Iowa Review, Cabinet, and Artforum. Formerly an Associate Professor of English at Yale and a Visiting Professor in the Yale School of Art’s painting department, he is a Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.

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On its surface, Teddy Wayne’s latest might seem like an obvious rebuttal to today’s literary culture. Set a quarter-century ago, Apartment is a book about young, white men narrated, not surprisingly, by a young, white man. A brief, breezy read, chock full of winning twists of prose, Apartment is a semi-satirical take on class, masculinity, and the Academy; Columbia’s MFA program, to be precise, where dubiously constructive workshops teem with “types” recognizable to anyone who’s been within screaming distance of an MFA.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Joseph Di Prisco. His new novel, The Good Family Fitzgerald, is available from Rare Bird Books. It was the official May pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Di Prisco has published four other novels (Confessions of Brother Eli, Sun City, All for Now, and The Alzhammer), three books of poetry (Wit’s End, Poems in Which, and Sightlines from the Cheap Seats), two books on childhood and adolescence co-written with psychologist and educator Michael Riera (Field Guide to the American Teenager and Right from Wrong), and two memoirs (Subway to California and The Pope of Brooklyn). His book reviews, essays, and poems have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers, and his poetry has been awarded prizes from Poetry Northwest, Bear Star Press, and Bread Loaf.

He lives with his wife, photographer Patti James, and their two whippets (Raylan and Ava—yes, their names straight out of Elmore Leonard) in Lafayette, California.

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Meredith Talusan. Her new memoir, Fairest, is available from Viking.

Talusan is an award-winning journalist and author. She has written features, essays, and opinion pieces for many publications, including the New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, VICE, Matter, Backchannel, The Nation, and the American Prospect. She has contributed to several books including the New York Times Bestselling Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay. She lives in New York.

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Rita Banerjee interviews author David Shields about his book, Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention. Listen below:

 

Below is an excerpt from the transcript:

 

Rita Banerjee:    David, thank you so much for talking to me about Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump. I really enjoyed reading the book; I thought it was compelling and a really fast read. I just wanted to start off by asking you a question about the form of the book and its composition. You often call this  a curated diary or a thematized journal, and it seems like there are six major acts to this book, everything ranging from “A rage to injure what has injured us” to “Apocalypse always.” How do these major themes tie into one another and build up to the book’s final epiphany?

David Shields:    Thanks, Rita. The book is indeed broken into six chapters. What is it, this culture that we are living in, which seems qualitatively different from previous political cataclysms? As a citizen of the republic, what could I do to address it? There is or was something riveting about the Performer-In-Chief. There’s something in him – we can all pretend that we’ve turned it off, and maybe some of us have. I wanted to explore this mixture of revulsion and attraction. Not to any political stance of his, but to his performative chops. I’m a big fan of the idea that great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings. On the one hand, my intellectual self is actively opposed to him; I’m doing all kinds of things to contribute to his defeat.. But there’s this other quite primitive part of me that is fascinated by the fact that he is still President. So I just kept a journal. Every day I’d walk around the house with my headphones on. I’d be flying back and forth from CNN to MSNBC to Fox News, from Christian talk radio to NPR to local news. I read every book about and putatively by him. I listened to every episode of the Howard Stern Show with Trump and I watched every episode of The Apprentice. With this onslaught of media coming in, it almost felt as if I were in a war zone. That was important to me, to just gather all of this stuff. I had hundreds upon hundreds of pages of this stuff, but I wanted to organize it into a very carefully structured pattern. =This book is organized within an inch of its life. Among the many things I find exciting about collage, is that it can boundary jump. One of the pleasures of writing this book for me, and I hope for a reader, is you never know what’s going to come next. I can cut to anywhere I want to go as long as I am getting a deeper purchase on Trump. The whole excitement of this form is that you’re not just making a fictional gesture or essayistic gesture or a stand-up comedy gesture. You can pull from any possible pot of clay, so long as you are deepening your investigation. I also hope that it almost feels for reader that you are spying on the writer as he is going on this existential adventure. And the reader kind of feels like, “this is actually adding up to something.” One of the chapters, “A rage to injure what’s injured us,” is really about Trump’s childhood. There is a wonderful line by Robert Hass from his great poem“Bush’s War.” He says that there is a rage to injure what’s injured us. Without turning Trump into simply a psychoanalytic category, he was demolished by his father. He’s hugely projecting that anger elsewhere. Then there’s the chapter “The frenzy of the visible” in which he’s trying to experience love through the media. There’s this amazingly interesting feedback loop in which he’s watching TV watch him watch TV watch him. It’s like Being There  times one hundred, in which he’s trying to experience love through media forms. Out of his broken childhood, he became incapable of human love. Out of that incapacity, he attempted to live within a sort of “mediaverse,”hoping and believing that somehow the big TV in the sky would love him back. The big message of the book is that he may destroy the planet out of the rage that has injured him. The final revelation of the book is that the thing that will save us is Trump’s self-destruction. There’s such profound self-loathing that animates his hatred. I argue that before Trump destroys the planet, he’ll destroy himself. The book is making a very clear argument about how brokenness leads to lovelessness, how that lovelessness leads to an over investment in media culture, how that media culture can in no way can yield a love that he wants, how out of that emptiness creates a huge drive of destruction, and how the possible saving grace is that he finally will self-destruct. It’s a beautiful and terrifying circle.Hidden within these 400 paragraphs is this relatively tight psychosocial argument of the book. It’s really a very specific investigation – how destruction comes from in its own woundedness, how it projects itself outward, how it often defeats itself through self-loathing.

trying to fit my feelings
into these words
is like I’m stuffing
twenty-eight green balloons
into a picture frame
first I would hold one down
and release
with a flick of my pen
its pop and hiss

✥✥✥

Mueller Report: long wait, no orgasm.

Barr says Biden probe unlikely.  Liar.

Supreme Court takes case.  Uh oh.

Tell me again how Bernie won.

Florida man sees opening.  Dick stuck.

Faye’s inner battle: which Cheez-Its.  Buffalo.

My face in your mirror: handsome.

I am your lover.  I think.

Deuteragonist means second.  Is that me?

Poem bursts out of rock: pleasure.

Vur-awn-ick-ugh.

The sounds felt clunky on my tongue but still I said them.

After all,
that’s how my mother said it to the new teacher
on the way to
my new classroom
in my new school
in my new neighborhood
in this new world.

At home,
it sounded different.

This was written in response to the people of Hong Kong’s demand for universal suffrage and other democratic reforms.  Protests have been ongoing in the island territory for a while now; things abated with COVID-19, but have roared back.

The Hong Kong people are protesting the Mainland Chinese government’s shameless attempt to ram unconstitutional national security laws through its rubber-stamp legislature, bypassing the territory’s own legislature and Basic Law (the island’s mini-constitution). The  Chinese government has dropped all pretense that Hong Kong is a quasi-independent territory, and its tactics are increasingly alarming and inhumane.  The government has turned Hong Kong’s common law legal system, widely regarded as one of Asia’s finest, into a mockery, jailing dissidents and retaliating against those engaging in civil disobedience.

Further, and laughably, the Mainland Chinese government has asserted that Hong Kong’s colonial-era policing laws are insufficient to quell the protests.  This, of course, is ridiculous as British Hong Kong was in fact used as a testing ground for the Crown’s most brutal riot-policing tactics.  Suppression is as heavy-handed and relentless as it was decades ago.  Only the master has changed.

This poem is fundamentally in response to the Chinese government’s callous disregard for the people of Hong Kong.  The nature and character of the territory’s democratic system, with rights hard-earned in the post-colonial era, will be irreparably damaged by the government’s actions.  The poem is a fictional account of a protestor and their establishment/government partner; it can be read as a queer poem because some of the most-visible leaders of the protests are queer people.  This is all the more controversial in the conservative territory where many people do not even come out to their friends and loved ones.


Fire alarm, 3 a.m.
Feet shuffling
Soldiers marching
Ball and chain
Innocent eyes
Central Park Five
Hey, he said, voice thick with sleep
Don’t go out, Blue Shirt warned
He obeyed, he hid
Firefighters and police came and went
Ruse to flush him out

Anyone’s Son is the title of your debut poetry collection. Tell us about this title. Why did you choose it? What does it mean to you?

Titles are important to me. When I have finished a poem or short story—or in this case, an entire collection—one of my favorite approaches to choosing a title is to read what I’ve written very closely, looking for a word or phrase that resonates, that feels evocative. One of the poems in my opening chapter references a Time magazine cover story of October 21, 1969—“The Homosexual in America.” The cover itself features a photograph in closeup, of an ordinary young man, though the colors have been manipulated—harsh green, baby pink, bruised purple. As I wrote the poem, I studied the cover image, and suddenly it occurred to me: “this was a face that might have been anyone’s son.” Often, growing up gay, finding a place for myself as a gay man, I have felt estranged from my straight peers. But the truth is that I might have been anyone’s son, that any parent might have a gay son or daughter, that any of us might have been the “other” that we thoughtlessly fall into judging.

He loved the night sky over Loraine, accent
on both syllables—low rain—loved the taste
of the name in his mouth, the sound of his town-
folk talking. He loved lying flat on his back
that summer, dusk pulsing with crickets, dreaming
the Great Hunter. He knew the story, the bright
stars, Betelgeuse his favorite—shoulder of the giant
he dreamed roping, star of a rodeo that glittered
like Rex Allen’s spangled shirt under banked lights,
his unleashed smile. The boy carried that brightness