Matthew Specktor is the author of Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California, available from Tin House.

 

Specktor’s other books include the novels That Summertime Sound and American Dream Machine, which was long-listed for the Folio Prize. Born in Los Angeles, he received his BA from Hampshire College in 1988, and his MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in 2009. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, The Paris Review, Tin House, Black Clock, and numerous other periodicals and anthologies. He is a founding editor of the Los Angles Review of Books.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

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I was doing the thing where my mom was on the phone with me so I was walking laps around the neighborhood. I get pretty sick of being in my apartment. And I need the exercise.

I hadn’t been home in months and months and months and Mom was telling me about how my dad fell in the pond and couldn’t crawl out because he’s got bad knees. It’d be funny and kind of sad if it weren’t for the fact there was a six-foot alligator in there. Dad tries to scramble out of the pond and he keeps sliding in mud and meanwhile, the alligator floats, all scales and prehistoric eyes, just watching. 

I laughed, passing construction site after construction site, old buildings going down and new condos going up, expensive condos no one was actually going to live in. Hundreds of empty condos all over the neighborhood.

“But the real problem is you can’t call animal control on an alligator,” Mom was saying. “Trust me, I tried it. They told me the state budget was cut and they no longer have the equipment or the manpower to wrangle alligators. Can you believe that?” 

Mom sneezed. She works in an old government building and she always has a sinus infection. 

“There’s practically a dinosaur living in the pond, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. There’s no one to call. And you certainly can’t kill it. You know your daddy hates shooting things.”

I cut down a side street I don’t often walk down. It’s an ugly chunk of sidewalk covered in busted bottles but it always has the best graffiti, usually Polish because that’s who most of the people in the neighborhood are. There’s this one Polish guy named Brutus who always talks about how he’s a mutant because he grew up thirty miles from Chernobyl. Brutus wears urban camo and has a ponytail down to his ass. He’s six foot ten and he probably is a mutant but I like him. He’s a good guy. 

Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of the poetry collection Felon, available from W.W. Norton & Co.

 

Betts is a poet, essayist, and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice. He writes and lectures about the impact of mass incarceration on American society. His previous books include the poetry collections Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm, and a memoir entitled A Question of Freedom. A graduate of Yale Law School, he lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

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“God is dead” was no celebration on Frederick Nietzsche’s part. It was a warning. Where would we find meaning now that the Enlightenment had rid us of the easy comfort of an unquestioned Lord? In 1942, Albert Camus attempted an answer in The Myth of Sisyphus. We recognize the absurdity but must imagine a happiness; “it is he who must give the void its colors.” It became our journey, our charge, our purpose, to provide the meaning. It doesn’t matter but as long as we’re here anyway, we might as well make it matter. 

 

I’ve never liked it one bit. Neither, it seems, does Dara’s unnamed hero (& very occasional narrator). 

 

“If his purpose is to generate purpose then that is no purpose at all.” (pg. 101)

 

The Story:

 

The story is a manuscript appeared on the writer Richard Powers’ stoop in the early to mid 1990s. The manuscript was The Lost Scrapbook, the first novel from the author working in complete pseudonymity publishing under the name Evan Dara. The story is a good one, as literary stories go. The reclusive author, like Bolaño’s Archimboldi in 2666, DeLillo’s Bill Gray, and even in the unceasing cast of writers, real and imagined, summoned in Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co. where he goes about defining “the literature of the no,” is an alluring literary figure. 

 

The story is the manuscript goes on to win the 12th Annual Fiction Collective 2 competition, judged by William T. Vollmann. The story goes it received one contemporaneous national review, an extremely favorable reading by Tom LeClair comparing Dara’s work to William Gaddis and was then summarily dismissed. The story is the famed critic and Gaddis scholar Steven Moore reached out to Evan Dara by e-mail to ask about the influence of JR, Gaddis’ massive 1,000-page novel primarily told in unattributed dialogue. This story is also a pretty good one. It feels specially tailored to spend the rest of its life performing as an interesting anecdote at parties put on by smartly dressed university professors. Evan Dara writes Steven Moore back. Says he checked JR out of a Paris library. Says he opened it once. Says he shut it. Says he didn’t want the influence. 

Matt Bell is the author of the novel Appleseed, available from Custom House Books. It is the official July pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Bell is also the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as the short story collection A Tree or a Person or a Walla non-fiction book about the classic video game Baldur’s Gate IIand several other titles. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, Conjunctions, Fairy Tale Review, American Short Fiction, and many other publications. A native of Michigan, he teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

www.otherppl.com

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

Mark Leidner weaponizes the deadpan tone of a defeated world to reclaim that classically Romantic thing: the Sublime. Weaponizes like the weapon is a water gun; reclaims like he’s won a water gun contest and the reward is the end of global warming. In Returning the Sword to the Stone, Mark isolates the scenes of absurdity that string our inner lives together while gesturing toward the authenticities still available to us at this late date, this deeply stupid, cynical, and sentimental moment in history. Reading this collection was re-invigorating and a reminder that the opposite of stupidity is not intelligence but love.

 

Mark is a generous, wise, and witty writer. This interview was conducted by email.

 

While reading these poems, I was reminded of the D W Winnicott line where he says flippancy is a reaction to despair. What do you think is the relationship between that attitude and that feeling in your work? Does playfulness exist in concert with futility/frustration, or is it something purer and more simply fun?

 

I try to pair flippancy with something else — some other kind of seriousness, a lyricism, a formal constraint — to create tension. My favorite poetry is flippant yet not, playful yet ferocious, silly but provocative. Such conflicts are also the way I feel most of the time: despairing yet ready to laugh, contemptful yet looking to show mercy, skeptical but hoping to be naïve, etc.

 

Following on that, what or who is the contempt directed toward? The idealism here seems to be connected to love – the marveling at your subject who recites “Having a Coke with You” is one of the most moving invocations of love I’ve read in a long time. I love how that poem lifts off. Do you feel idealistic about love and love for writing? Or, why was it important to you to write a love poem where what you love is how much someone loves something else and loves sharing that something else with someone else?

 

I try to reserve the majority of my contempt for my own greed, vanity, and pettiness, but it often sprawls into contempt for the same qualities in others or the culture generally. While I’m idealistic about love and writing most of the time, that idealism is freighted with contempt for the deluding character of love and poetry. I usually feel satisfied with a poem’s honesty about poetry if it has at least little of both of these impulses in it.

 

In “Having a Coke with You,” I was recording a real-life event that spontaneously happened, so I didn’t think too much about underlying whys. In retrospect, it makes sense that I’d want to write this poem and put it in the book because it does present an ideal of love I believe in. Loving someone or something outside yourself is one way to escape the claustrophobia of exclusive self-regard. Loving someone outside yourself who in turn loves something outside themselves — poetry in this case, or a way of relating to it — seems like a more liberating extension of that transcendent space.

 

Transcendence calls to mind the moments of almost gleeful resignation in the collection: in the title poem, returning the sword to the stone (in all its forms) seems to indicate some abdication of expectation that sets you free. Is this act of playfully loving your limits (Sisyphus licking the stone) the same as humility?

 

We all face limitations we have no control over, mortality being the main one. I think learning to accept limitations, and possibly even to love them, is one pinnacle of wisdom. There is that Eliot line from the Four Quartets: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” Someone quoted it to me once, and I often return to it. In Returning the Sword to the Stone I wanted to explore it.

 

I started the drive at 5AM from my Chicago apartment to Funks Grove, an unincorporated woodland area twenty minutes south of Bloomington-Normal. I was supposed to start working the previous day, but the publisher of Dalkey Archive Press had been in the hospital for treatment of a heart attack over the weekend. Off I-55, the narrow road twisted through corn fields and forest preserve. I pulled into the driveway and heard multiple dogs barking while I gathered my bags. The door opened as I approached and, in his Irish staccato speech, John O’Brien told the golden labs, “Quiet down, guys, it’s just my new friend.” 

The house smelled of cigarettes, which was no surprise after my three-hour Zoom interview the week before, during which John chain-smoked as we discussed the difficulties of modern publishing. The week I arrived, John gave up smoking after fifty years of doing so, because his cardiologist bet him that he couldn’t quit, and he was determined to prove him wrong.

I was admittedly nervous due to the notoriety of the Dalkey Archive Press, as well as the infamous “worst job posting ever” articles that appeared when I initially researched job openings at Dalkey. The 2012 posting for an unpaid internship demanded applicants “do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.).” John was the one to bring up the posting in my interview, stating “I’ve been called an asshole many times before, but never as much in a twenty-four-hour period. Some people don’t get my humor.” While my position was for a modest salary, commensurate with experience, I convinced myself it would be worth the opportunity, and if not, I would try to learn more about publishing.

Greg Gerke is the author of the essay collection See What I See (Zerogram Press).

 

Gerke’s work has appeared in Tin House, Film Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, and other publications. He is also the author of a story collection entitled Especially the Bad Things, which was published by Splice in 2019. He lives in New York.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

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The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Mark Leidner is the author of the poetry collection Returning the Sword to the Stone (Fonograf Editions).

 

 

Leidner is also the author of two feature films: the sci-fi noir Empathy, Inc. (2019) and the relationship comedy Jammed (2014), as well as the story collection Under the Sea (Tyrant Books, 2018), the poetry collection Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me (Factory Hollow, 2011), and the book of aphorisms The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover (Sator, 2011). He lives in California.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

A man is following me through a congregation of sightseers who’ve got no idea I’m about to be murdered. Shy is awestruck with the hundreds of gelato flavors and says, “Look! There’s one that tastes like blood…” but I can’t look because the guy is just beyond the open door, staring. He wants to kill me because when he got emasculated by a sort-of mime who made a slide-whistle noise while running a balloon sword up the inside of the guy’s thighs, everyone in the Piazza della Rotonda laughed, but I laughed closest, so I was his prey. I tell the scooper I would like half-pistachio, half-blood. 

 

***

 

Pool water wet, I weave through olive trees desperate to nab the pet-shaped blur I let escape out the villa door. All the others are jet lag napping and you and Chelsea are approaching fast so there’s nothing to do but fess up. You laugh and say no, there’s no dog, but, Chelsea asks, did it happen to have udders, which yeah, come to think of it, the dog mooed. 

 

The plumber’s pantomiming freestyle swimming and then he’s pantomiming a plumber who is shivering so hard he’s gotta grab his own arms tight or else he’d Energizer Bunny the fuck up, out, and away. He is doing this because, although my appearance says otherwise, I cannot speak his language. But little does he know, I’m from Boston and drink Dunkin Iced Coffees when it’s negative degrees, in fahkin Fahrenheit, dude. You’re around the side of the house, cracking up so hard, you’re a yellow rubber chicken that can no longer scream, just wheeze.  

Pedro Mairal is the author of the novel The Woman from Uruguay (Bloomsbury), translated by Jennifer Croft.

 

Mairal was born in Buenos Aires in 1970. He studied a degree in ‘Letras’ (‘Humanities’) at USAL (‘University of el Salvador’) where he was an assistant lecturer of English Literature. He has published three novels, a volume of short stories and two poetry books. His first novel, Una noche con Sabrina Love, was awarded the ‘Premio Clarín’ (‘Clarín Prize’) in 1998 with a panel of judges comprising Roa Bastos, Bioy Casares and Cabrera Infante, and was adapted to the screen in the year 2000. His work has been translated and published in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Germany. In 2007 the Bogotá39 jury selected him among the most notorious 39 young Latin-American authors. He currently lives in Montevideo.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

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The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Forrest Gander is the author of the poetry collection Twice Alive, available now from New Directions. In 2019, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection Be With.

 

Gander’s other books include Core Samples from the Worldwhich was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has collaborated frequently with other artists including photographers Sally Mann, Graciela Iturbide, Raymond Meeks, and Lucas Foglia, glass artist Michael Rogers, ceramic artists Rick Hirsch and Ashwini Bhat, artists Ann Hamilton, Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, dancers Eiko & Koma, and musicians Vic Chesnutt and Brady Earnhart, among others.

Gander was born in the Mojave Desert and grew up in Virginia. In addition to writing poetry, he has translated works by Coral Bracho, Alfonso D’Aquino, Pura Lopez-Colome, Pablo Neruda, and Jaime Saenz. The recipient of grants from the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim, Howard, Whiting, and United States Artists Foundations, he taught for many years as the AK Seaver Professor of Literary Arts & Comparative Literature at Brown University.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

www.otherppl.com

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

I usually think people hate me which is why when Mario hadn’t texted me since I’d rejected his poem, I thought he hated me. 

 

But it turned out he didn’t hate me, he’d just killed himself.

 

Not to say it was a relief. 

 

Thank God, he hadn’t killed himself because I’d rejected his poem. I found out from a mutual friend when exactly he’d killed himself. It was a few days after submitting the poem to me but before I’d emailed him the rejection.

 

That part was a relief. So to speak.

 

But then I was in a predicament. Everyone was posting positive things about him and his good poems. I was very depressed and playing video games all the time and didn’t know what to do. I thought to myself “Fuck, should I just publish this? Maybe as a celebration of his life?”

 

The problem was the poem was bad. Not his best work. Not his worst work either, he’d published that back when he was in college. I wondered whether his decline as an artist was what made him kill himself. There wasn’t a note. Not that I know of, at least. Not that I would know whether or not there was a note.

 

We weren’t very good friends. Mostly friendly, with the wary respect that you feel for someone who is a version of you from an alternate universe. Someone mistook us for brothers one time at a reading.

 

We both said “Haha, no, not brothers.”

 

Then he introduced himself to me. 

 

He seemed slick and he really wanted to be liked. I really wanted to be liked too but went more for the blank canvas approach: don’t flatter people, just kind of be there and eventually people will decide they like you. Other people’s attention was like an oncoming train—just stand to the side and be ready to sneakily jump on but whatever you do, don’t meet it head on or invite it.

Lana Bastasic is the author of the debut novel Catch the Rabbit, winner of the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature. Available now in translation from Restless Books. The official June pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Bastasic is a Yugoslav-born writer. She majored in English and holds a master’s degree in cultural studies. She has published three collections of short stories, one book of children’s stories and one of poetry. She lives in Belgrade.

Her short stories have been included in regional anthologies and magazines throughout the former Yugoslavia. She has won the Best Short Story section at the Zija Dizdarević competition in Fojnica; the Jury Award at the ‘Carver: Where I’m Calling From’ festival in Podgorica; Best Short Story at the Ulaznica festival in Zrenjanin; Best Play by a Bosnian Playwright (Kamerni teatar 55 in Sarajevo) and the Targa Unesco Prize for poetry in Trieste. In 2016 she co-founded Escola Bloom in Barcelona and she now co-edits the school’s literary magazine Carn de cap. She is one of the creators of the ‘3+3 sisters’ project, which aims to promote women writers of the Balkans.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

[Below is an excerpt from Brooks Sterritt’s new novel The History of America in My Lifetime. Get your copy here!]

 


 

The first powder they provided for our enjoyment sharpened something inside me, and dulled something else. My body ceased functioning in the way I was accustomed. Reagan switched on speakers in the room’s corner, filling the air with what may have been a brown note. The two of them flanked a lamp, and sort of shimmied there, watching me. I was reminded of Giotto’s Death and Ascension of St. Francis, for the angels of course but also for what was hidden inside the cloud. In foreground: corpse, mourners, roughly ten haloed angels (some with illegible faces), and the ascendant St. Francis. The cloud, though, contained the face of what could only be a devil, demon, imp, daemon, fiend, or fallen angel. What else watches from a cloud?

 

The better question: what did “demon” really mean? Even if you reject the label, some things shined with enough intensity to make direct viewing of the source impossible. Some had an ability to control brightness, to blur certain aspects of themselves, even to cloud a mind or two. 

 

The second powder they gave me caused my body to sink into what felt like a jelly-filled bag. A series of sounds: paper being shredded in slow-motion, a chainsaw backwards, the sound of a single finger snap echoing, extended until it sounded like a hiss of flame. I breathed heavy electricity. A layer of clear glass emerged between my eyes and surroundings, which then shattered, reemerged, and shattered, until the ceiling extended into an infinite corridor. Woodland paths and streams became visible in the tile, a maze buzzed into the hair on someone’s gargantuan head. The pair of attendants were sitting on the edge of the bed, talking.

 

“They always say they can go forever,” Reagan said.

“Like, I’m going to fuck you for hours,” the other said.

“Then, a few minutes later…”