Jul 22

Laia Garcia interviews SCARECRONE author Melissa Broder

Melissa Broder is a poet. In Scarecrone, her latest collection, she writes poems about right now, modern life, not about phones and cars and computers but the way we feel. The things we tell ourselves to survive, the way we frame our experiences so that we may live with them. When you finish reading her poems, it is very likely that lines that you have just read will bounce around your brain, like lil’ ribbons attached at the bottom of a kite (and that’s how you know it’s real). She also has an amazing twitter account that you should follow because we all need little bursts of poetry in our daily lives. We talked over email about life, magick, and teenage girls.

Laia Garcia: Did you always know you want to be a writer or were there other times were you were seduced by other things?

Melissa Broder: I started writing poetry in third grade. My teacher Mrs. Hovey said I had talent. That kind of positive feedback felt good, because I was otherwise a bad student (spacey, always daydreaming, typical poet). So I kept writing. Also, the act of writing just felt good. As an anxious child who never felt comfortable in her own skin, writing poems offered relief—and poetry still functions that way for me. I fantasized that one day I would grow up to be a poet. At that time the only poetry I had read was Shel Silverstein. My first poems were rhyming poems.

Here is one of my first poems:

The Candy Shop

When I walked into a candy shop the first thing I saw was a lollipop
I think I’ll have some Lifesavers, or maybe a cookie with five different flavors
How about a peppermint stick, or maybe a chocolate Twix?
Cherry candy would be dandy
A chocolate sweet would really be a treat
[something something I don’t remember this part]
How about a cake with honey?
Oops I forgot I didn’t bring any money

Ah, I love this! There is something about it that seems unmistakably yours, even at a young age. Indulging in this fantasy and then real life hits and you’re just like “oh, oh well,” which is a feeling I get in a lot of your poems I think, and why I relate to them. The feeling of “ugh, the world” but instead of “woe is me,” it’s more of an… “ok it is what it is and move on” kind of reaction. More of a fighting feeling, not so much to belong but to exist in the world the way you are.

Yes, it’s a real struggle for me in reality. I think I’m just wired to want out—not in a suicidal way, necessarily, but in a shift-in-perception way. In a relief from self way. I’m always looking for secret vehicles and passageways out. Sometimes the vehicles are dangerous, or like I get hooked on the vehicle itself. I attribute the feeling of escape or pleasure to a particular vehicle, rather than the destination or something that already exists somewhere within myself, and kind of move into the backseat. I forget that there are other vehicles or life outside it. But poetry is one way of getting out of myself that has never hurt me. It can be slower than the other vehicles, but it is very powerful.

Yes, that makes perfect sense. I think in the end everyone is trying to find that vehicle. Sometimes I just want out of my brain, like how nice would it be to turn your brain off for a little while and exist in this sort of, white-out room bliss with nothing else invading your being? I am still looking for my vehicle though, or maybe I just need to take it for a tune-up. (I don’t drive and therefore I’m bad at car analogies). But anyways, I feel that when I read your poetry and I think it helps me escape also. I’m sure it helps a lot of people escape, I mean, that’s why we all read, right?

I recently moved to LA (Venice) and am deep in the car game. One of my favorite things is to drive around LA with the sunroof down and listen to rap. It gives me white-room bliss (you gotta learn the traffic patterns so you can get the open road, but it’s there). I mostly bike and walk everywhere in Venice, but once or twice a week I get out of my neighborhood and go driving and it’s the best.I’m really glad my work helps you (and maybe others) escape. I am all about escape.

I guess having said that, it’s obvious that you write for yourself. Does it ever surprise you when other people identify with your poems and are like “THIS IS MY BRAIN HOW DID YOU GET TO MY BRAIN”? Like the things that are truths to you are also truths to other people. Does it make you feel less alone in the world, like there is a gang of souls roaming around that you are a part of?

Like, I will fangirl out for a minute, because I think it’s important to show people appreciation but in “The Purpose of Ritual” when you say “What does it mean to be so sick/with want that you create rituals/which lead nowhere?” I don’t know what it means but I know what it’s like to ask myself that and also to create the rituals and it feels like something so private and then BOOM! I read that and I understood my feelings and I also felt somewhat validated. Anyways, that may be one of my favorite poems in the book I think.

Thank you for fangirling! That’s the cool thing about poetry. Your rational mind doesn’t have to know what it means. It’s something to be experienced. You can absolutely understand something from a very deep place inside yourself that your logical mind can’t touch. And that’s the place I try to write from. It has to feel true to me. But bones true, not brain-true. And yeah, it’s a blessing that people identify with my poems. That’s all I can say about it. I feel like it’s a great blessing. It’s a supreme gift to give that to an artist.

Have you been in touch with Mrs. Hovey since the third grade?

I’ve thanked Mrs. Hovey in all three of my books. And last year I tracked down her address and sent her a thank you card. She emailed back! I hadn’t spoken to her since I was eight, so that was cool.

Do you think your childhood fantasy of growing up to be a poet matches up with your life now?

It’s very hard for me to view anything that is happening to me as real. Like, when good things happen I either worry about losing them immediately or that I will never create something as good as that particular piece again or that ‘it’s over’ or ‘I’ve lost it’ or ‘this journal that I never imagined I’d be published in is now publishing me, so it must mean they’ve gone way downhill.’ Yet in spite of this self-torture, I try to be grateful, because it is super cool to have a dream and then to have the dream come true. Like, here is an example:

The first time I did a paid reading was at a University in Albany. The reading was to last for 30-40 minutes. But instead of being excited about being paid for my poetry in a university setting I was terrified of having a panic attack. I get panic attacks when I’m in situations where I feel like it would be ‘weird’ if I just left or took a break. And this was a long reading. And I felt like because they were paying me, I couldn’t just walk away from the podium or excuse myself to the ladies room if need be. And in worrying about the panic attack I absolutely gave myself a panic attack. With the second or third poem came shortness of breath, heart palpitations and dizziness. By the ninth poem I was like in full unreality. I managed to power through to the end and no one knew. Afterwards, I felt like I was tripping. I then had to brave a long dinner with my host, another poet and their friends and families, which was terrible, because I was still anxious and having trouble swallowing. But I remember catching a glimpse of myself in a window of the auditorium where the reading was being held. The snow was coming down outside and it was dark out. I saw my reflection for a second and kind of gave myself a nod and thought ‘You said you wanted to be a poet when you were a little girl, and look! You’re a poet!’

"Yet in spite of this self-torture, I try to be grateful" This is so true. It’s weird how those feelings can coincide even though they are seemingly opposite. Like you look in the mirror and think nothing is ever right, nothing is good enough and then there is the disembodied part where you look at yourself from the outside and say "but look where you are" and despite knowing that, the fear and all of the ugly feelings remain. Sometimes I wonder if those feelings are really the way to creativity, even if it sounds like, SO "tortured artist," because what kind of things would you create if everything you made and said was PERFECT! How could it ever go up from there? I like that you said "grateful," I think "grateful" is a good word to remember.

Oh hell yeah. You need the weave in order to make art. At least, I need it. The weave between darkness and light. The braid. Containing multitudes is a bitch, but it’s that bothness of life that creates the friction for me. I’m not good with emotional pain. I’m wired to reach for false lights to get out of the darkness. And then the lights go out and it’s darker than before. But poetry is healthier, because it’s a synthesis. It doesn’t try to stamp out the dark. Or I don’t when I write. Poetry’s got the light and the dark. It’s sustainable.

I was reading your essays about writing for HuffPo and “Scarecrone” made me think of the piece you wrote "The Poet is a Scarecrow" where you quote the poet Muriel Rukeyser, “You need only be a scarecrow for poems to land on.” Do you feel like the poems exist somewhere within you fully formed and you just have to extract them or it more like the idea is there and through words you have to build it a path to come out of you…

Any poem that knows where it is going to end up is probably not a great poem—at least in my experience of writing poems. There has to be an element of magick. It’s just up to me to get my conscious mind out of the way, to channel, to let the the music and my guts do their thing. So I definitely don’t go into poems with an idea. I can’t go in from the head. I go in with a line that I feel, that comes from a dream state or a meditation. Or I take a pile of nouns that aren’t my own, and juxtapose them, and see which story feels true. But true on a bones level, not logically. I feel my way in. I let alchemy do its thing.

So yes, I think my strongest poems are fully formed within me. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need chiseling. I’d say I birth the poem from the guts and heart, but then I use my head to edit it.

I like that you said “magick” because sometimes I think poems are like spells, and how do you write a spell?! It’s all so mysterious. Do you set time to write every day? Are there ever poems that feel like they are being more difficult or us that not something that ever comes up?

I try to read poems and write poems every day. But again it’s usually off the cuff—I’m not sitting down at my typewriter with my cats and a shotgun. I don’t think about difficulty when I’m writing, so much as feeling truth. Like I ask, does this feel true? And I don’t mean true in a ‘did this happen’ sense but in a ‘deep in the bones’ sense.

What are you currently reading? Is there a poem written by someone else that you find yourself going back to for inspiration or strength or pleasure or whatever?

I am lucky enough to have received an advanced copy of Dorothea Lasky’s Rome, which comes out in September. #blessed

So many poems. Here is one I love.

Do you write in journals or on a computer/typewriter now? Does it make a difference?

Usually now I write poems on my iPhone in Simplenote. I like the informality of writing on an iPhone, often when walking. It gives me more space for play, rather than sitting down at a desk and writing Poetry with a capital P. That’s way too much pressure.

Are your tweets linked with your writing process or are they completely separate? Like do you think of something and open twitter and do it or do you extract things from your writing and then tweet them…

My tweets are their own entity. I tweet from my brain. I tweet from my ego. I try to be clever, crafty, calculated. I don’t want any of that stuff to touch my poetry. Which isn’t to say that tweeting isn’t an art form. I love it very dearly. And occasionally there is some overlap. I think maybe three or four years ago there used to me more. But as time goes on, the place I write poetry from is very different.

"Hi Humanity" is another one of my favorites in Scarecrone, and although it has nothing to do with the internet, it seems like a poem of now that couldn’t have been written in any other time and it feels like it’s maybe a secret code of communication for all the Tumblr girls that will reblog and add “THIS.” at the end because nothing else needs to be said. You’ve contributed to the Illuminati Girl Gang zine, have you explored the tumblr universe adjacent to that world beyond that? Are you a “Girl at Night on the Internet”?

I am so a girl at night on the internet. And all the time. But especially at night. I have a few twitter accounts but I don’t like to tweet from my primary account until after 7 PM PT. If I start before that, I will be on it all day. It’s like people who try not to have their first drink before 5 PM. So yeah, I don’t start tweeting on there till 10 PM ET when all of the East Coast nerds are in bed, hehe. I have a lot of other ‘rules’ when it comes to twitter that I often break.

I have a Tumblr that I mostly use to collect images that resonate or that I use for ekphrasis. I love teen girls and am a teen girl. I think a lot of people are.

What were you like in high school? What sort of things did you have up on your teenage bedroom walls?

Emotionally, I was a lot like I was as a child and lot like I am now: anxious, not totally comfortable living in a body or on the planet, escapist, prone to fantasy. I sought refuge in cigarettes, an eating disorder and poetry. I fetishized the hippie culture of the late 60s and felt aligned with bands like Pink Floyd, who seemed to be asking what I was wondering, which is, does anyone know what’s really going on here? I asked people if they knew ‘the truth’. In college I got very into psychedelics. For a while I thought I was Jim Morrison reincarnated. I wore bellbottom jeans and orange platform sneakers and gained 40 pounds. I was deep into astrology (I’m a Virgo with a Scorpio Moon and Sagittarius Rising). I came from a pretty sheltered, privileged, non-religious Jewish upbringing and fell in love with a boy who came from the same kind of background. We drove across the country to Angelfire, New Mexico and took Peyote in a teepee. I had all of the bad headshop art: the ‘Dead at 21’ poster with Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain together in heaven; the Pink Floyd naked ladies with the album covers painted on their backs. It was black light wonderland.

Wow! The naked Pink Floyd ladies! All the dudes in my freshman year of college had that up on their wall, that’s so amazing. Are you still wondering if “anyone knows what’s really going on here” or have you moved on to other questions? I’ve found that my main interest as of late is “what is real life?” but I still haven’t figured it out.

I don’t practice any one religion, or maintain any strict religious beliefs, in a hard and fast way. I see many aspects of many religions as symbolically useful, archetypically useful, often beautiful. Most of them seem to be pointing at the same stuff, which is ineffable. I do have a god, but I can’t say what it is. And my relationship with it keeps changing, like all relationships change and evolve. Also, I have a morning meditation practice, but it’s not drawn from any one tradition. It’s nothing fancy. It’s just the act of doing it every day—of taking the ten minutes to be still before I touch any technology or let the world into my brain or let my brain into the world. A lot of times my brain doesn’t shut up until the last minute of the meditation. Like, a lot of times I’m meditating on how fucked I am. But if I skip the practice, my day is inevitably worse. This isn’t a woo woo or mystic thing. It’s me who makes the day worse, not some deity in heaven. Meditation gives me like 3% more chance of pausing before acting. And maybe like 4% more space in my mind. But that’s everything.

Did you also know there is a “Scarecrone” Magic, the Gathering card? (I’m sure you do). I think the card is a poem.

That Magick the Gathering card is cool. I didn’t know it existed until after Scarecrone was on its way to the publisher. But physically she totally embodies the fear at the heart of the book.

Laia Garcia is a freelance writer and stylist. She knows it’s a strange combination.


Jul 5

Jun 18

For the first time, we’ve made catching up with some of our favorite Emily Books easier by bundling them into discount-priced collections.  

Let’s talk about SEX, baby. This collection features four of our most sexually explicit books. They’re not pornographic, or even really erotic. They just get into the nitty-gritty of sex and bodies — sometimes hot, sometimes gross, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, always the realest of the real.

Making Scenes by Adrienne Eisen: A novel about incest, experimentation, post-grad ennui, and beach volleyball. 
Inferno by Eileen Myles: This is one of our favorite books ever. In it, someone’s labia is described as like a “frilly mantilla.”
Notice by Heather Lewis:  Sex in every form, on every page. Both good and very, very, very bad.
Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger:A teenage girl comes of age, so much. 
If you missed any of these books, don’t miss this deal! It’s 25% off the cover price. 

Jun 11
emilygould:

An Introduction to How To Get into the Twin Palms by Anya Ulinich
This essay is excerpted from this month’s issue of the Emily Books Reader, our iOS app that includes each of our books plus interviews, essays and other extras. It’s free to download, $9.99/month or $99.99/year.  (You can still subscribe and buy the books online and receive the books via email, too.) 
A Facebook friend who’d moved to the U.S. from St. Petersburg in his thirties recently posted a frustrated status update in which he complained about a younger writer. This writer had immigrated from Russia as a child, and now wrote an overwrought (in my friend’s opinion) essay about her conflicted identity. His basic point was that since she’d grown up in America, she was essentially American. Her memories of the old country were childish and vague or, perhaps, even second-hand, based on photographs and stories. Not only did she speak English without an accent, she was more comfortable expressing herself in English than in her first language. The only experience of adulthood she’d had was an American experience. Most importantly, Americans didn’t perceive her as “other.” Because of this, my friend said, her identity issues, if not entirely made up for the sake of her readers, were greatly exaggerated. She didn’t face the daily oppression of being treated like a foreigner, of having to distinguish herself from a stereotype that rose like a wall in people’s minds whenever they heard accented speech. She didn’t experience the difficulty of navigating around cultural knowledge gaps that persisted in older immigrants long after they mastered the vernacular of everyday life. So why, my friend wondered, why was she being such drama queen about the difficulty of her bifurcated identity? My friend found it unseemly. Nabokov, he argued, had never made a peep about his identity troubles.
I’m not saying that Nabokov had it easy in general, but he had it easy in a certain way. He was so very clearly a Russian exile. He did not need to defend the notion that his outsiderness defined him. But assimilated immigrants, members of the 1.5th generation, carry their foreignness like a secret. It’s a very real part of them, yet somehow illegitimate. (I want to argue with myself here: “America, the country of immigrants, is made up of outsiders! There is no such thing as an ‘American’!” So, let’s forget the national specifics and talk generally about people who carry a phantom reality with them—not just a set of memories, but an alternate self. Let’s use the word “American” to mean someone who belongs and the word “foreigner” to mean, more generally, an outsider.) The alternate, foreign self of an assimilated immigrant is woefully incomplete, vague, half-alive. So when such a person travels to their country of origin, they feel like foreigners there, too. It’s often culturally, morally, and politically unappealing (there was a good reason for leaving the old country!) Yet it’s undeniably present. It’s not as finite as “baggage,” and it’s not as tangible as a “skeleton in the closet.” It’s more like a sinkhole that shrinks and expands unpredictably, triggered by emotion or circumstance—by a bout of insecurity or a period of loneliness, by a failure to communicate.
I have to switch into first person here, because I’m a member of the 1.5th generation myself. Or, more precisely, of the 1.3rd generation—I was almost an adult, but not quite, when I moved to the U.S. So anyway, occasionally the sinkhole gets big enough that it threatens to swallow our tangible, American selves. In those times, our residual selves seem like our most authentic ones. The sinkhole devalues our reality, undermines us, from the inside. We fear those moments, and we take appropriate measures.
We may try to brightly label the sinkhole, playing up our origins, placing ourselves inside the traditional immigrant narrative. But ethnic and cultural self-labeling makes us cringe, because these labels don’t really describe what’s going on with us. We are not the same as our parents. We don’t have a right to the classic immigrant story. Our nostalgia is for American high schools we attended, for the American TV of our childhoods. Sometimes, we try to pave the sinkhole with self-hatred. For example, Russian immigrants in New York love to talk about how much they hate Brighton Beach. But we can’t help coming back to Brighton Beach Avenue, to eat borscht under the train tracks and to just make sure we really hate it, just one more time. Waclawiak’s heroine, Anya/Zosia, is repulsed by the Polish restaurant, which reminds her of a roadside brothel. She looks at the proprietor and his young wife and speculates about their sordid pasts. Waclawiak’s writing harshly amplifies sour tastes and smells, tacky décor and painful history. It’s a stressful scene to read, and it’s my favorite one. At the end, Anya/Zosia looks around at the non-Polish patrons of the restaurant and thinks: “I’m sure they were laughing at this version of us, with all its kitsch and old-world charm. I was embarrassed that the owner pushed it this far. I felt a sense of pride and shame all at once. I felt like I had to tell them how it really was, but then, I didn’t really know at all.” This last sentence describes, very precisely in my opinion, the existential state of the 1.5th generation. Anya/Zosia doesn’t enjoy the food at the restaurant and can’t wait to get out of there. Yet later, she makes one of the dishes for her boyfriend. She makes it wrong, and it’s inedible.
Anya/Zosia isn’t a heroine in a traditional sense, and How to Get Into the Twin Palms isn’t really a book about a girl’s life. Anya/Zosia doesn’t make any sense as a character moving through plot. Why does she pretend to be Russian, why does she swim in an ash-littered pool, why does she hurt her hands, why does she drive around aimlessly? Eventually, you give up trying to make sense of all this, and just listen to Anya/Zosia’s voice. It’s the voice of a homeless soul, unmoored and increasingly panicked. The real plot arc of How To Get Into the Twin Palms is that of an existential crisis, and the book is set in Los Angeles, a classic setting for stories of alienation. Zosia passes for an American, to everyone but herself. While LA remains quite abstract and conceptual (the fires, the grid), the writing in the parts set in Poland is visceral and concrete—Zosia has best emotional and sensory access to it, yet she can’t even pass for Polish. So the homeless soul looks of a bit of neutral ground by pretending to be a third thing—a Russian, and changing her name to Anya. (I tried not to read this as political or historical allegory— what does it mean for a Pole to pretend to be Russian?—as a reader, I wanted to remain focused on the existential message of the novel.) But Anya/Zosia’s Russianness is a flimsy, temporary landing pad. As she crashes through it, she grasps at tangible things, spending a lot of time in near-forensic contemplation of body and skin, tub drains and soap scum, hair and blood, shit and chemicals. Alone, in an empty apartment, having literally lost everything, she searches for some firm ground to stand on. She doesn’t find it, but perhaps she doesn’t have to. The end of the book feels like a sudden burst of sunlight on a gray day. It describes a state of transition as the most hopeful, happiest one. It’s the only authentic state for the likes of Anya/Zosia—and, in an increasingly mobile world, more and more of us are like her. We’re escape addicts, compartmentalizers, chameleons. Living on a sinkhole, we pack light.
Anya Ulinich is the author of Petropolis and the forthcoming Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, a graphic novel. She lives in Brooklyn.

emilygould:

An Introduction to How To Get into the Twin Palms by Anya Ulinich

This essay is excerpted from this month’s issue of the Emily Books Reader, our iOS app that includes each of our books plus interviews, essays and other extras. It’s free to download, $9.99/month or $99.99/year.  (You can still subscribe and buy the books online and receive the books via email, too.) 

A Facebook friend who’d moved to the U.S. from St. Petersburg in his thirties recently posted a frustrated status update in which he complained about a younger writer. This writer had immigrated from Russia as a child, and now wrote an overwrought (in my friend’s opinion) essay about her conflicted identity. His basic point was that since she’d grown up in America, she was essentially American. Her memories of the old country were childish and vague or, perhaps, even second-hand, based on photographs and stories. Not only did she speak English without an accent, she was more comfortable expressing herself in English than in her first language. The only experience of adulthood she’d had was an American experience. Most importantly, Americans didn’t perceive her as “other.” Because of this, my friend said, her identity issues, if not entirely made up for the sake of her readers, were greatly exaggerated. She didn’t face the daily oppression of being treated like a foreigner, of having to distinguish herself from a stereotype that rose like a wall in people’s minds whenever they heard accented speech. She didn’t experience the difficulty of navigating around cultural knowledge gaps that persisted in older immigrants long after they mastered the vernacular of everyday life. So why, my friend wondered, why was she being such drama queen about the difficulty of her bifurcated identity? My friend found it unseemly. Nabokov, he argued, had never made a peep about his identity troubles.

I’m not saying that Nabokov had it easy in general, but he had it easy in a certain way. He was so very clearly a Russian exile. He did not need to defend the notion that his outsiderness defined him. But assimilated immigrants, members of the 1.5th generation, carry their foreignness like a secret. It’s a very real part of them, yet somehow illegitimate. (I want to argue with myself here: “America, the country of immigrants, is made up of outsiders! There is no such thing as an ‘American’!” So, let’s forget the national specifics and talk generally about people who carry a phantom reality with them—not just a set of memories, but an alternate self. Let’s use the word “American” to mean someone who belongs and the word “foreigner” to mean, more generally, an outsider.) The alternate, foreign self of an assimilated immigrant is woefully incomplete, vague, half-alive. So when such a person travels to their country of origin, they feel like foreigners there, too. It’s often culturally, morally, and politically unappealing (there was a good reason for leaving the old country!) Yet it’s undeniably present. It’s not as finite as “baggage,” and it’s not as tangible as a “skeleton in the closet.” It’s more like a sinkhole that shrinks and expands unpredictably, triggered by emotion or circumstance—by a bout of insecurity or a period of loneliness, by a failure to communicate.

I have to switch into first person here, because I’m a member of the 1.5th generation myself. Or, more precisely, of the 1.3rd generation—I was almost an adult, but not quite, when I moved to the U.S. So anyway, occasionally the sinkhole gets big enough that it threatens to swallow our tangible, American selves. In those times, our residual selves seem like our most authentic ones. The sinkhole devalues our reality, undermines us, from the inside. We fear those moments, and we take appropriate measures.

We may try to brightly label the sinkhole, playing up our origins, placing ourselves inside the traditional immigrant narrative. But ethnic and cultural self-labeling makes us cringe, because these labels don’t really describe what’s going on with us. We are not the same as our parents. We don’t have a right to the classic immigrant story. Our nostalgia is for American high schools we attended, for the American TV of our childhoods. Sometimes, we try to pave the sinkhole with self-hatred. For example, Russian immigrants in New York love to talk about how much they hate Brighton Beach. But we can’t help coming back to Brighton Beach Avenue, to eat borscht under the train tracks and to just make sure we really hate it, just one more time. Waclawiak’s heroine, Anya/Zosia, is repulsed by the Polish restaurant, which reminds her of a roadside brothel. She looks at the proprietor and his young wife and speculates about their sordid pasts. Waclawiak’s writing harshly amplifies sour tastes and smells, tacky décor and painful history. It’s a stressful scene to read, and it’s my favorite one. At the end, Anya/Zosia looks around at the non-Polish patrons of the restaurant and thinks: “I’m sure they were laughing at this version of us, with all its kitsch and old-world charm. I was embarrassed that the owner pushed it this far. I felt a sense of pride and shame all at once. I felt like I had to tell them how it really was, but then, I didn’t really know at all.” This last sentence describes, very precisely in my opinion, the existential state of the 1.5th generation. Anya/Zosia doesn’t enjoy the food at the restaurant and can’t wait to get out of there. Yet later, she makes one of the dishes for her boyfriend. She makes it wrong, and it’s inedible.

Anya/Zosia isn’t a heroine in a traditional sense, and How to Get Into the Twin Palms isn’t really a book about a girl’s life. Anya/Zosia doesn’t make any sense as a character moving through plot. Why does she pretend to be Russian, why does she swim in an ash-littered pool, why does she hurt her hands, why does she drive around aimlessly? Eventually, you give up trying to make sense of all this, and just listen to Anya/Zosia’s voice. It’s the voice of a homeless soul, unmoored and increasingly panicked. The real plot arc of How To Get Into the Twin Palms is that of an existential crisis, and the book is set in Los Angeles, a classic setting for stories of alienation. Zosia passes for an American, to everyone but herself. While LA remains quite abstract and conceptual (the fires, the grid), the writing in the parts set in Poland is visceral and concrete—Zosia has best emotional and sensory access to it, yet she can’t even pass for Polish. So the homeless soul looks of a bit of neutral ground by pretending to be a third thing—a Russian, and changing her name to Anya. (I tried not to read this as political or historical allegory— what does it mean for a Pole to pretend to be Russian?—as a reader, I wanted to remain focused on the existential message of the novel.) But Anya/Zosia’s Russianness is a flimsy, temporary landing pad. As she crashes through it, she grasps at tangible things, spending a lot of time in near-forensic contemplation of body and skin, tub drains and soap scum, hair and blood, shit and chemicals. Alone, in an empty apartment, having literally lost everything, she searches for some firm ground to stand on. She doesn’t find it, but perhaps she doesn’t have to. The end of the book feels like a sudden burst of sunlight on a gray day. It describes a state of transition as the most hopeful, happiest one. It’s the only authentic state for the likes of Anya/Zosia—and, in an increasingly mobile world, more and more of us are like her. We’re escape addicts, compartmentalizers, chameleons. Living on a sinkhole, we pack light.

Anya Ulinich is the author of Petropolis and the forthcoming Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, a graphic novel. She lives in Brooklyn.


Jun 10

An Entirely Queer Plane of Existence

by Indiana Seresin

When I was little and in the beginning stages of an obsession with novels, I used to narrate the affairs of my own life in my head. She opened the cupboard, glancing around nervously for signs of her mother, I would silently recite. Confident that she was alone, she removed the chocolate from its wrapper, folded the wrapper into a tiny square, and slid it under the sofa cushion. I used to visualize the gigantic product of this endless stream of narration, a book hundreds of thousands of pages long that would magically appear on the event of my death. Nobody would read it, I humbly acknowledged, but still, it would exist. 

In 1933 Gertrude Stein decided to write herself into history with the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Last year, the Belgian conceptual artist Filip Noterdaeme did the same, lifting concept, structure, style, and even whole sentences from Stein in his Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart––a bold move befitting a tribute to the woman who liked to describe herself as a “first-rate genius.” Noterdaeme—who was kicked out of Hunter College for “plagiarizing” the work of other artists—clearly finds great pleasure in appropriation, and readers of the Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart will find this pleasure contagious. 

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Jun 9
Come see Trisha Low, Beth Lisick and Filip Noterdaeme read on Wednesday at Housingworks Bookstore Cafe at 7! Free wine til it runs out! 

Come see Trisha Low, Beth Lisick and Filip Noterdaeme read on Wednesday at Housingworks Bookstore Cafe at 7! Free wine til it runs out! 


Jun 2
Omg, wait, this is NEXT WEDNESDAY? and there’s FREE WINE? AHHHH you better mark your calendars. 

Omg, wait, this is NEXT WEDNESDAY? and there’s FREE WINE? AHHHH you better mark your calendars. 


May 19

Notes on the Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart

by Barbara Browning

When I was fifteen, I began my first significant epistolary relationship. It was with a Canadian boy of my age that I’d met during the summer. Our correspondence wasn’t romantic—or at least it wasn’t moving us toward any kind of typical boyfriend/girlfriend situation. We didn’t talk about it then, but he was pretty clearly gay. We were both in love with writing, and that was what we did together—or rather apart, but addressed to one another. He was some kind of boy genius and he went to Harvard the next fall when we were both sixteen. I went to visit him, and we went to the Harvard Coop where we bought Gertrude Stein’s How to Write because we liked the way it looked—a fat white paperback with plain black serif type on the cover. We took it back to his room and stayed up late reading it like a primer. We took the title literally. And that’s how I learned to write—in an intimate collaboration, guided by Stein’s weird and yet completely sensible observations about how language works, and how to reflect on those strange truisms even in the act of putting words down. The famous one is: “A Sentence is not emotional a paragraph is.” But there are so many good ones.

A sentence should be arbitrary it should not please be better.

It should not be disturbed. 

A sentence has colors when they mean I liked it as selling salt should be very little used in dishes.

That is one of the best I have done.

That taught me that it was okay and maybe even sometimes charming to acknowledge that you’d just made a pretty good joke, or written something a little poignant, or perceptive. Please excuse me if you don’t find that particularly funny, or poignant, or perceptive. I find it a little of all three, though not a lot.

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May 14

Permanent Creation: An Interview With Filip Noterdaeme

This interview was commissioned for our iOS app, which you can download (free) here. 

Erin McMonagle: What came first—the idea of doing something along the lines of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, or the idea of doing a memoir?

Filip Noterdaeme: For quite a while, I had felt that the story of my life with Daniel was worth telling. It’s when I stumbled on The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that I knew I had found a structure to tell our tale. Daniel, when I told him of my idea, thought I was completely out of my mind.

EM: But then he came around.

FN: Eventually he came around, but in the beginning there was an active resistance on his part because he didn’t think it was possible to do such a thing. Personally, I loved the challenge of working within the structure of an existing book. John Cage said, “We need a structure in order to get lost.” The restraints of writing my memoir this way gave me license to dare to do the impossible. It’s how I wanted to celebrate that part of my life with Daniel, and I couldn’t think of a better model than the strong relationship of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

EM: When you say you needed a structure to get lost in, did you really lose yourself and start to pull from other things?

FN: Oh, I did. It was just so exhilarating to let memory somehow guide and misguide me. All of a sudden, things come back to you that you never thought would ever matter. Daniel is my memory, in a way. I’m always dazzled that he remembers things with minute details that I’ve completely blocked out. Maybe that’s also one of the reasons I chose him as the narrator and vehicle for the story.

EM: In some ways, it sounds like he’s the structure that allows you to be free, within which you can create.

FN: Yes, and that mirrors very much our shared life and distinct personalities. In Nabokov’s last novel, Look at the Harlequins!, the protagonist recounts the moment someone gave him license to invent reality, urging him to “Invent the world! Invent reality!” I read this as an invitation from one writer to another to carve out a space for adventure, to defy genre and convention, to be subversive, and to welcome contradictions and paradoxes. For me, what’s often lost in the equation of writing a memoir is the pleasure that lies in the playfulness, in the freedom of inventing a life that happens to mirror your own, almost as if by coincidence.

EM: Let’s talk about how your art project, The Homeless Museum of Art, came into being.

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"Wanting to kill yourself is so banal."

believermag:

image

Ben Fama Talks to Trisha Low

Trisha Low’s first book, The Compleat Purge, came out last fall from Kenning Editions, and when the package came in the mail, I expected to find it bound in sandpaper. I’d seen Trisha perform on the Lower East Side around when the book came out. She drew out long-damaged feelings and confrontations, which all showed through her apparent manic nervousness as she wept onto the floor. I introduced myself to her after she’d finished while she was cleaning up after herself (she’d politely declined my help). She had not published the book by then, though still my interest in it bloomed.

The “I” of The Compleat Purge functions in a lineage that includes Simone De Beauvoir, Kathy Acker, Elena Ferrante, and Ariana Reines. A production in three acts, Purge is filled with suicide letters to friends, articles of her will as written during various stages of her life, and fantasized rough sexting between Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Anthony Rossomando of The Dirty Pretty Things. This is an awkward time to be a Poet, no?

I had the chance to talk to Trisha once the book came out, and we discussed her relationship to craft, her writing on Hello Kitty band-aids, tattoos, Fabrizio Moretti and how “pop culture is all about ‘being in love.’” The result is as follows.

—Ben Fama

I. SACRIFICE AS SELF-CONSTRUCTION

THE BELIEVER: Can we talk about craft? In the first part of The Compleat Purge you’ve embedded epistolary form within the structure of a will and testament. Is suicidal ideation a big part of your life?

TRISHA LOW: Actually, let’s talk about The Craft (the movie) because, unlike craft, suicidal ideation is not something you perfect, it’s something that becomes you, like really good red lipstick. There’s this part in the film where Fairuza Balk decides to force the other girls to do this spell called “Invocation of the Spirit,” after which she becomes super greedy for power. As she gains more and more spells, her body also begins this weird process of molecular declension. Her eyes get wilder, her fingers and her joints get looser, and her hair gets limper and greasier.

The Craft is really about scapegoating. About becoming yourself vis-à-vis destroying yourself; the ultimate sacrifice-as-self-construction. Of course, that sacrificial economy always turns its back on you. It’s the same kind of reversal in Purge, only there’s one Trisha Low that’s Fairuza and another version that’s Robin, the witch who kills her. 

I like vacillating between victim and aggressor. Wanting to kill yourself is so banal.

BLVR: Purge starts with an epigraph from Jack Spicer’s Admonitions, which reminds me of the occasions when you invoke it during the first section of Purge. What’s your relationship to Admonitions?

TL: Oh well, Jack Spicer is one of my one and onlys—he’s truly the whore’s whore. Rather than Robert Duncan’s giving oneself up to love, Spicer is more insistent about how love ate the red wheelbarrow, it’s all-consuming—and yet he positions it as a formal device. Love for Spicer is ultimately an artificial framework, a posture to manipulate. He’s a total liar in the strength of his flip contempt—he hates everyone but will say anything to get them into bed. 

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