When we think of experimental fiction and what it means to write in a way that challenges form and style, we often think of writers like Kathy Acker, Ander Monson, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Danielle Dutton, Selah Saterstrom, Mark Danielewski, Laird Hunt, to name a few. As this form has emerged, it’s slowly become a viable medium in which narratives are compiled of frayed edges, blurry lines and unique style. This type of writing began to focus on fragmented stories, utilizing techniques and styles that echo modern poets and experimental texts. A movement called the New Narrative began in the 80s that gave voice to writers looking to give voice to narratives in a more experimental fashion. Initially, these writers focused on eliminating the boundaries between the author and reader as to identify with the physical side of the author. While some of these New Narrative authors were gay and lesbian writers, all who became part of this movement did focus on “new narrative” forms of communicating with its readers. Incorporating meta-text and sexually unambiguous descriptions of the everyday were par for the course in works that emerged as a result of this movement in writing. Authors like Eileen Myles, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy and Robert Gluck were among those who pushed boundaries with style and form and who are associated with such a progressive movement where writing’s concerned.Ugly Duckling Presse published Dodie Bellamy’s Barf Manifesto in the fall of 2009, which is a combination of two essays that Bellamy wrote for panel discussions about the liberation of form in regard to writing. Eileen Myles had written an essay entitled, “Everyday Barf” and Barf Manifesto is Bellamy’s response to that essay. Divided into two essays, Bellamy addresses some of the issues and talking points that emerged as a result of Myles’s multifaceted piece on “Everyday Barf.”
What’s interesting about both the Myles and Bellamy essays are the general consensus in regard to the act of barfing and it’s parallel to our daily life. The act itself is involuntary but the question posed to us, the reader, “do we really have control over life and its daily happenings or are we subject to the involuntary occurrences that take place on a day to day basis, much like barfing?” While the word barf on its own causes one to push the words and letters out of our mouths in a way that resembles the act itself, an extrication of bleh, the everyday. Often, we ignore or fail to recognize how much or how little we have control over our livesand because of that everyday, involuntary, mundane-ness we disconnect from the actual motions we go through. Eileen Myles wants to talk about barf, the everyday barf we encounter and she makes it her job to tell us about how it functions not only in her life but the ways in which it affects our lives. Bellamy’s first essay gives insight into how Myles’s essay affected her personally and as a writer. She mentions hearing Raymond Federman’s description of experimental writing at the Naropa Summer Writing Program in 2008 and how it caused her to question the very premise of experimental writing and what it means to do just that.
“As an experimental writer, I do not teach anything because experimental writing doesn’t try to say anything; it tries to be something.”
Bellamy complains to Myles after hearing Federman’s description of experimental writing that
“I’m drawn to the whole issue of being rather than saying” but goes on to say, “but I get hung up on ‘experimental fiction does not try to say anything.’ Everyday Barf says more than enough whereas experimental fiction for the sake of being experimental fiction is just plain boring.”
What’s so incredible about the two essays in Barf Manifesto is that there is new light being shed on the everyday and what makes each and everyday different from the next. Bellamy declares,
“The Barf is feminist, unruly, cheerfully monstrous. The Barf comes naturally to women because women like to throw up finger down throat, one, two, three, bleb . . . The Barf is an upheaval, born of our hangover from imbibing too much western Civ. The Barf is reflective, each delivery calls for a framing, the Barf is expansive as the Blob, swallowing and recontextualizing, spreading out and engorging. Its logic associative, it proceeds by chords rather than single, discrete notes.”
Bellamy asks writers and readers alike to examine how Eileen Myles’s essay, “Everyday Barf” affects us and alters our perception(s) of what is and is not. Such thought-provoking work and the manner in which it causes one to question the questions, reminds us that there’s more to the monotonous day-to-day than meets the eye. Those who were instrumental in the New Narrative evolving continue to probe the boundaries of poetry and prose and all things uncategorical.
Kirsten Kaschock published her first book with Slope Editions in 2004. Unfathoms is a glimpse at the spaces we can’t see but only hear, the connectivity that exists in body, space and time and the hunger that resides in each of us. When I received this book, my first thought revolved solely around her cover art. And it truly is a work of art. The black and white photograph is stunning and stirs many questions for me as a reader. Why this photo? Who is this girl? And so on. Having only read a couple of shorter works by Kaschock (Stenographer’s Steps, for one) Unfathoms was untilled ground for me. Kaschock, who likes to incorporate images and word pictures that revolve around dance and ballet appear in these pages. This work journeys into streets of foreign towns and twisted mental roads. Kaschock choreographs poetic verse and fathoms the unfathomable in the poems that make up, Unfathoms.
Death, unicorns and the anatomy of a ballet dancer all make an appearance in this book of poetry. Love Poem asks, “How can hands learn such complication as a body? Yours are listeners. Nestled in each palm, I suspect an ear.” And Meditation on a Pencil takes us on a short trip down roads named regret where “some of the things I regret were tiny.I do not want to live in that room where they talk. I would rather the tip of a branch where it breaks open. You must tell me if blossoms re something other than wounds.”
Kaschock also takes us on journeys to places where Sin is a City, “Bitten, the residents of Sin feel, differently. Or they lack feeling altogether, or they lack it only in the extremity and Moon is a city, “of asylums. All, open. Love-making among inmates is encouraged by other inmates”, Coronation is a city, “She had only the one head, but she would multiply had she learned how” and Bride is a city wherein, “paralysis is the former name of bride” and poems like Autobiography, Inkblot edition make you realize this may be the debut of a writer whose voice we’ve only just begun to know. Kaschock has a way of taking what we cannot see, what we know is absent in structures, relationships, cities and dancers and completes them by breathing life back into these malnourished invisibilities. To love poetry is to love Kirsten Kaschock. Unfathoms makes you do just that.
A Midsummer Night’s Press makes pocket sized books that overflow with sublime works of prose and poetry. Julie R. Enszer’s work, Handmade Love is no exception. In this debut collection, Enszer walks the tight rope of human emotion, teetering between sexy and political, erotic and fantastical. This work is that of a true feminist at heart who is brazenly outspoken and poetic all at once. Her writing is raw and real and sincere. A poem entitled, “In my Fantasy Single Life” depicts the life of a single woman who has midnight romps with various women but remains detached from the fantasies she lives and the reality of what it means to be in love.
“I am hanging out at bars and clubs and other hip places where hot lesbians are gathered, and I am flirting and I am dancing and I am seducing hot women and eating their pussies in bathrooms or my car or my hip fantasy single life city condo and I like it and I want it to continue.”
She acknowledges the reality of what it means to have a stranger say “I love you” and mistake sex for love. “because all of a sudden I remember this is my fantasy single life—where I have wild sex without love—but I live in reality somewhere and there, in that reality, there I remember: I know love.”
Of these 26 poems, Enszer uncovers the quiet thoughts that exist in our minds prior to a first kiss, “I always waited late into the night thinking, could I pretend it was just an accident? Lay my lips on yours: mid-sentence, mid-giggle, mid-teenage confession. Could I pretend? Could I pretend?” and how our feelings are germane where real love is concerned; whether it’s in ones passion for politics, a desire to be desired or the inherent value in things handmade.
“At seven, teased by children for my handmade bag and matching dress, I demanded store bought clothes, a back pack. Now my briefcase is leather and bulging with files, but I yearn for my childhood bag still in my closet. Sometimes when I’m alone I pull it out and carry it around the house filled with special objects.”
This tiny collection maintains a solid voice and message about the ferocity and velocity in which love spins us around and forces us to look at how we love and why. The attention and care to the work within these pages isn’t just about gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered people and their stories, but rather the love and fractured hearts that emerge as a result of the love we “inherit” and the love we choose to make. Handmade Love is a fantastic debut that spares no one in its quest to examine how we live amongst love, loss, fantasy and reality and the ways in which we deal with the aftermath of love in all its forms.
Aimee Bender is capable of anything. Her work at Madras Press is the perfect example of the many forms her work has taken on over the past decade. The Third Elevator is her fourth book. She has written to short story collections (the Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures and two novels, An Invisible Sign of my Own and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.) The Third Elevator is a departure in style for Bender compared to her previous works. While this work still screams Bender, there are the subtle nuances that make this piece unique. Whether she’s writing about swans, bluebirds and clouds or queens with insecurities, this short piece breathes life into inanimate objects and makes you wish there really were three elevators (one of wood, one made of gold and one made of feathers) that could take you to the sky, the forest or to the underground world of this place we call earth. One finds themselves extremely interested in what happens when a swan and bluebird copulate and produce a cloud as a result of their affections and this is only one of the gifts Ms. Bender gives her readers in these short 47 pages.
The Third Elevator is just about as lovely a story as any surrealist could conjure up in his or her sleep. Bender has a penchant for writing surrealist fairy-tale like stories where a woman has a head of hair made of snakes or salt and pepper shakers become real and Lilliputians become caged pets for humans. This story is no different. The enchanted world within these pages is no different. A queen who’s married to a man who has a thing for turtles; a logger with psychological problems; birds who are maniacal and medically inclined to help others (and have a propensity for stealing) are just a few of the many wonderful mysteries lurking in The Third Elevator. Make no mistake; this short book is equal in weight to her short story collections and novels where the fantastical and fanatical exist. What is so incredibly remarkable about the work put out by Madras Press, is not that they chose Ms. Bender’s mini-novella as work worthy of publishing but that all proceeds go to charity. Almost a decade ago, Bender indoctrinated us with her word-play and magical realism. Today, her work remains as interesting as she is intelligent.
**Coming soon: A conversation with author Aimee Bender and yours truly about her new novel: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake right here at TNB!