SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: EDGAR ALLAN POE FOR HALLOWEEN AND DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

Halloween-graveyard
By Edgar Allan Poe:

SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness — for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!


THE RAVEN

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“ ’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
                                             Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
                                             Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“ ’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;
                                             This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
                                             Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
                                             Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon I heard again a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
                                             “Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
                                             Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
                                             Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
                                             With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
                                             Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
                                             Of “Never—nevermore.”

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
                                             Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplght gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
                                             She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
                                             Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
                                             Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
                                             Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
                                             Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
                                             Shall be lifted—nevermore!



(Today’s poems are in the public domain, belong to the masses, and appear here today accordingly.)



Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was an American author, poet, editor, and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. (Annotated biography of Edgar Allan Poe courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Editor’s Note: Your faithful editor of this Saturday Poetry Series is a HUGE fan of Halloween. This year I’ve decided to celebrate with poetry! “The Raven” is a classic poem of the macabre, and as such is a perfect nod to All Hallow’s Eve. I am particularly partial to this rendition by the Simpsons, because Halloween should have both tricks and treats involved. In addition to “The Raven,” well-known and beloved, I was pleasantly surprised to find “Spirits of the Dead,” a poem that calls out to Dia de los Muertos, when the veils thin between the worlds of the living and the dead and we welcome the spirits of those who came before us. “[F]or then / The spirits of the dead, who stood / In life before thee, are again / In death around thee, and their will / Shall overshadow thee; be still.” Happy Halloween!

Want to read more by and about Edgar Allan Poe?
PoeStories
The Poetry Foundation
Academy of American Poets
Poe Museum

Posted in Edgar Allan Poe, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DIANE LOCKWARD

Lockward-headshot

By Diane Lockward:


SERVICE FOR THE MURDERED BOY

                           In Tibet they lay their dead
                           on the side of a mountain.

All night I dream of the murdered boy
decomposing in the Himalayas,
laid out under a Banyan tree.
No monsoon of grief in this unarable land,
only mountains rumbling
with footsteps of tigers, snow leopards,
and moon bears. A hundred vultures fill the sky.
All circle in, nuzzle the boy with snouts and beaks,
and devour him until nothing’s left but bones
and a skull, resting on stones hard as fists.

I dream a mission of monks, roaming
the desert, spinning prayer wheels,
and searching peasant villages for the right
boy, the one birthed at the exact moment
of death. They lift the born-again buddha
and carry him home.

But my dream lasts only as long as the night.
Morning brings echoes of Ave Maria.

The father’s wearing a red jacket
with white leather sleeves, the kind
boys wear when they make the varsity team.
He leans into the mic and says,
“I don’t want to talk about the future,
or games that won’t get played,
or the boy who shot him. I want to talk
about songs that were sung.”
Then he breaks down, turns to his son
still smiling in the blown up photograph.

I don’t want church music, soft and mournful.
I want hard rock, heavy metal,
music all bass and treble, cranked up full blast,
the kind that blares out windows of cars
driven by boys, the kind that rocks
the ground and trembles the earth with their songs.


A MURMURATION OF STARLINGS

                     It was raining dead birds.
                              —Mayor Brian Levine, The Star-Ledger, 1/27/09

Starlings dropped from the sky,
mid-flight, like balloons suddenly deflated.

No time to spread their wings and glide on air,
and, synchronized, to soar and dive.

No time to close their wings, to wrap
themselves in shrouds of feathers, and sleep.

They fell like water balloons tossed blindly
from dormitory windows.

They fell like rocks dumped from the unlatched
rear end of a construction truck.

They fell like bombs, like stars, like fallen angels,
they fell like dead starlings.

Hundreds plummeted from the sky
on cars, porches, and snow-covered lawns.

They’d taken the poisoned bait
and, headfirst, dreamed one last time of England.

Birds who’d once disturbed a king’s sleep
with cries of Mortimer, Mortimer.

Memento mori, forcing us to contemplate
unexpected death.

Do we not already think of the fallen,
earth’s fields littered with corpses?

Dark vision made real,
their glistening bodies, silent now and still.

Birds who’d sung their own song
and wooed their mates with lavender and thistle.



“Service for the Murdered Boy” is from the collection Eve’s Red Dress (Wind Publication, 2003) and “A Murmuration of Starlings” is from the collection Temptation by Water (Wind Publications, 2010). These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.



Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Gwarlingo, and The Writer’s Almanac.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poems are, sadly, incredibly timely. I was originally drawn to “Service for the Murdered Boy” with thoughts of Michael Brown, but now both poems cry out in response to yesterday’s school shooting in Washington. Written years ago, the mourning and meditations of these poems are heartbreakingly timeless. There is a still and quiet beauty in their language and imagery, a slowing down of time that enables us to grieve. These mindful pieces reflect upon both today’s atrocities and the mourning songs that are as ancient as poetry itself. So, too, do these poems turn in upon themselves, questioning the very act of contemplating death: “Do we not already think of the fallen, / earth’s fields littered with corpses? // Dark vision made real, / their glistening bodies, silent now and still.” And they speak in chorus with those who have lost their children, to those who seek only to remember: “I don’t want to talk about the future, / or games that won’t get played, or the boy who shot him. I want to talk / about songs that were sung.”

Want more from Diane Lockward?
Buy The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop from Amazon
Diane Lockward’s Official Website
Diane Lockward’s Blog
Sign up for the poet’s free monthly Poetry Newsletter

Posted in Diane Lockwood, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sentience Matters: What Is a Zombie — Meat Consumption and the Advent of the Automobile

what is a zombie

What Is a Zombie: Meat Consumption and the Advent

of the Automobile

by Gabriel Gudding

The zombie begins its life in western letters as a post-colonial comment on the history of slavery in the Americas. But it has recently been revived and repurposed both as a worryingly obstructive pedestrian and as, I contend, a parody of the meat-loving human.

History of the Vehicle-Deprived Human as Impoverished and Sexless

Newspaper op-eds in Indiana during the 1920s characterized automobiles as morally threatening to families. They were written about as mobile rooms inside which private touching and pillow talk could be brought into public spaces from houses and barns without sufficient ethical censure. 

The automobile menaced a host of customs about adolescent and post-adolescent touching, pre-marital sexuality, and religion. Adults realized on a broad-scale, maybe for the first time since the advent of horse usage, that they did not want children to move too quickly, or too far, across a landscape. The anxiety expressed in Indiana newspapers around the rise of the automobile centered generally around the sexualization of the public atmosphere and in particular on the increased possibility of rape. A new kind of room, a mobile one, could now escape the orbit of parental censure. By 1930 57% of American households had an automobile.

There were even fears that novel kinds of underwear were being produced for this new modality of privacy. These fears do seem to have been founded: the union suit, a single-piece undergarment and the mainstay of Hanes for decades, gave way for men in the early ‘30s to a two piece arrangement: the singlet and the boxer. The men’s brief was created on January 19 1935 by a guy named Arthur Kneibler, complete with the y-shaped overlapping fly, which I marvel that any man ever uses, I haven’t, and manufactured by Coopers Inc as the “Jockey.”

By the 1930s bloomers gave way to “step-ins,” the forerunner of the modern panty: in 1928 Maidenform began mass-producing brassieres. Thank you, Ida Rosenthal, American, émigré from Russian.

The fear infusing parents maybe went something like this: One could now grope and kiss anywhere, and be discretely unclothed, so long as one was wrapped in an automobile, the top half clothed, bottom naked – hurtling as a demi-nude away from farms, parents, churches, pastors, and obstructive siblings at new and alarming speeds while cupping a breast or fondling a penis, one’s lascivious enjoyment amplified by the novelty of blurry ditches and the roaring of air in retractable windows on otherwise windless days. In sum, the nature of embodiment, and the nature of the out-of-doors, changed markedly with the rise of the automobile.

Consider this embodiment in light of the concurrent advent of the zombie in popular culture: the first pulp novel to make mention of zombies was W. B. Seabrook’s Magic Island of 1929, Seabrook being an American “occultist, explorer, traveler, cannibal, and journalist.” “At this very moment, in the moonlight, there are zombies working on this island.”

There is an uncanny and I think not coincidental correlation between the rise of automobiles and the advent of the portrayal of zombies in popular culture. I mean, you have to ask: how is it that zombies are so thoroughly pedestrian?

They do not bicycle, jog, run, drive, ride, skate, skip; they lumber, stagger, limp, stumble thru flat piazzas, avoiding even inclined pavement until a little wall stops them. They engage in no machinic transfer. We are fascinated with them, I feel, because they somehow underscore the lumbering and dead (indeed the asexual and non-somatic) nature of the non-driver in the automobile’s new ideology of motion. In the context of the automobile’s new motile ideology, the pedestrian is a zombie – a diminished human, past death, incapable of both speed and sex. The human is the only mammal that can be a zombie, Moby-Dick notwithstanding. (Certain ants do have zomboid qualities. The arrythmic gait and absent-minded halting of some crocodilians is reminiscent of a zomboid ataxia.)

The Zombie as a Parody of the Carnivorous Human

 Beyond its vehicle-deprivation and ataxia, the other major characteristic of the zombie is its carnivorous nature.

I contend the zombie is a parody of the meat-loving human, a subaltern and lumbering being so fixated on its appetite as to be uninterested in sex and incapable of dealing with machines, one who eats no greens, no vegetables, no fruit, and is so rapacious for flesh that it devours bloated rats, rotting beavers, and its own lips. The chief characteristic of the zombie is then not that it is a metonym for the cannibal, but that it parodies the human who can’t conceive of a meal that doesn’t have meat in it, the one who, when you sit down at the table with a plate of kale, avocado, and quinoa, asks snidely, “Where’s your food?” This dimension of the zombie is not about death, Halloween, graveyards, and shotguns: it is the carnist human allegorically facing the ethical and ecological realities of its own apocalyptic appetite.

“Apocalyptic” in two senses. First, that greenhouse emissions are now driving the sixth mass extinction of species in the natural record, and that animal agriculture is the single greatest source of greenhouse emissions. And, second, that animal farming (both factory farming and supposedly small-impact locavore farms) is the root cause of global malnutrition among human animals, such that the United Nations has called for a switch to a vegan diet.

Something in us knows that just as animal farming is driving tens of thousands of species into extinction, we’re also eating ourselves into a state of global malnutrition. The allegory of the zombie suggests that something in us can see our own blindness about meat, and that the appetite for it is grotesque and threatening to all of us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NOMI STONE

Stone headshot

By Nomi Stone:


WAR GAME, AMERICA

The war scenario has: [vegetables stalls], [roaming animals],
and [people] in it. The people speak

the language of the country we
are trying to make into a kinder country.
Some of the people over there are good
others evil others circumstantially

bad some only want cash some
just want their family to not
die. The game says figure

out which
are which.


WHAT IS GROWING IN THESE WOODS

Green in here, gleaming like
being inside a fable but with
stalls of fruit you can’t eat.
To go home, leave crumbs.
When the wood circles you
back here instead, let the lost
and the impossible ripen in
you, ripen and go.


US AND THEM

“I would make love to one of our

whores before I
would fuck one of their
bourgeoisie.” There was a proverb,

like this: Don’t trust a         if
he becomes a         even though
he remains a       for

forty years. And the sister opposite
proverb: Don’t trust a       even
though he has been in the grave

for forty years. It was a difficult day,
a bomb had spun open
a bus, and children

had been crushed down by
a machine. Each wondered if he was born
too soon, if later would have been better, if 40

+ 40 + 40 + 40



War Game, America” and “What is Growing in these Woods” previously appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, and “Us and Them” previously appeared via The Poetry Foundation. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.



Nomi Stone is the author of the poetry collection Stranger’s Notebook (TriQuarterly, 2008), a PhD Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University, and an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Warren Wilson. She previously earned a Masters in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford and was a Creative Writing Fulbright scholar in Tunisia. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Memorious, The Painted Bride Quarterly, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poetry, at The Poetry Foundation, and elsewhere. She is currently researching and writing a book of poetry as well as a book of non-fiction about combat simulations in mock Middle Eastern villages erected by the US military across America.

Editor’s Note: Nomi Stone’s poetry is a veritable minefield of experience. Politics, war, violence, history, proverbs, culture, peoplehood, nationality, borders, mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and biblical referentiality lie in wait for the keen and unsuspecting reader alike. The unsaid is as present and powerful as what is written, so that her poetry echoes the Bible’s black fire written on white fire. This is a poetry rich and blooming. Thick with the sights and smells of Near Eastern markets, yet heavy with human tragedy. Herein lies the old world. Herein lies the Levant. Herein lies the wild woods of our imagination set against the all-too-real world of war. If you cannot find your way out, “let the lost / and the impossible ripen in / you, ripen and go.”

Want more from Nomi Stone?
“Many Scientists Convert to Islam”
“Trapped on Djerba, Island of the Lotus Eaters”
“Purim, Spring Festival: How to Escape Massacres”
Interview with Nomi Stone with poems: “The Notionally Dead” and “War Game America”
An interview about Nomi Stone’s research on war games

Posted in Nomi Stone, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Unnecessary Defense of William T. Vollmann’s Last Stories and Other Stories

laststories

An Unnecessary Defense of William T. Vollmann’s Last Stories and Other Stories

by Jordan A. Rothacker

Despite all the sensational attention William T. Vollmann gets for writing about prostitutes or smoking crack (which often neglects his reasons for doing so and his other work with and on the poor, homeless, and other marginalized groups), or the warranted attention involving his run-ins with the FBI, what is often neglected, sadly, is Vollmann’s prose and the aesthetic value of his literature.

His most recent book, the 704 paged, Last Stories and Other Stories, is his first fictional works since 2005’s National Book Award winning, Europe Central. Often called a novel (in the vein of Danilo Kis’s, A Tomb for Boris Davidovitch, which the book is dedicated to), Europe Central is thirty-seven stories that come together with a wide and masterful vision of World War II focusing on the two opposing totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. This new book, Last Stories and Other Stories, is certainly more of a short story collection. If there is any theme that groups or connects them it is the most ancient and important of human themes, death, and more specifically, death in regards to love, the thing that makes death’s opposite worth anything at all.

I’ll admit; I’m a fan. I gobble up everything Vollmann writes and have since I first discovered him in 1999 with a bargain bin copy of The Atlas, still one of my all time favorite books. What I realized that first night reading The Atlas was that I was in the presence of literary, artistic, genius. Here was a Steinbeck, a Dostoevsky, a Melville, a Plutarch for my own time and I could read interviews with him and go to readings to experience him in person. This was a true and shockingly brilliant voice able to tackle many subjects and literary modes. Astute, eloquent, and always going for both the heart and jugular. I’ve done a lot of proselytizing the good news in regards to Vollmann’s writing for fifteen years and have had to try many different tactics to get people interested. Friends have read him, some after enough eye-rolling at my enthusiasm, and some have even come to love his work. The easiest defense I can ever give for my love of Vollmann’s work is that he is just really, really good. When Vollmann won the National Book Award in 2005 it was hard not to have a “told you so” attitude, and one day when he gets the Nobel maybe I’ll rest my advocacy a little bit.

After some poor reviews of this newest work of fiction (one reviewer I won’t name called his prose “boring,” but maybe that reviewer is a jaded fifteen year old), the good reviews have come rolling in and I’ve found myself wondering what more I can add. On the level of “what more could you want from literature,” Last Stories and Other Stories should seem like an easy sell. It’s a long book; but that’s okay, it’s short stories and people read long books like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones all the time. In some stories it involves ghosts, vampires, and/or supernatural erotica; alright, that actually sounds like it would make it more commercially viable today. The stories take place in locations as far-flung as Stavanger and Lillehammer, Norway; Vera Cruz, Mexico; Sarajevo, Mostar, and Trieste of the Balkan region; Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and ancient Palestine. The time periods for the stories are pretty wide in their range too with each writing style following suit to distinct location, theme, time, and folk tradition evoked.

Writers working like this are rare today, especially in this country. As the prose shifts through each story and setting, what remains consistent is Vollmann getting back in touch with his roots and some of his earliest influences, namely the Comte de Lautreamont (born Isidore Ducasse, 1846-1870). Lautreamont was influenced by Baudelaire, was an unbeknownst-to-either contemporary of Rimbaud, and himself influenced the Dadaists and the Surrealists. From Lautreamont to Vollmann goes the love of the long, gorgeously bursting, sentence of corkscrews and bubbles of color and cutting descriptions; along with an over-indulgence in darkness, often to conquer that darkness through mocking and excess. In stories about death, ghosts, vampires, and hallucinatory shape-shifting scenarios, Vollmann gets to flex those literary muscles and pump all his mid-life wisdom and knowledge through his youthful exuberance for in-your-face pyrotechnic prose. In stories set in 19th century Norway, the sentences might not be as long or bristly as those in the graveyards of contemporary Tokyo, but they are no less haunting or striking. His short sentences can be just as dark and brutal, as they evoke the Norse sagas and Eddas. It could be said that this collection brings together the best of young and old Vollmann.

The book is dedicated to Vollmann’s father who passed away in 2009, a life event that led Vollmann to write an essay in Harper’s Magazine about end of life rights (“A Good Death,” Nov. 2010). Being about life and death, there is an aspect to the book that is not only supernatural but also religious. The stories in Last Stories are meditations and reflections on death, what it takes away, and where that leaves us, the mourners, those left behind, pumped through the filters of a wild imagination with the world and its history at its fingertips. That is often how the greatest mythologies, legends, and sacred texts were composed.

This is not new territory for Vollmann, he recreates myths of European conqueror and Native American Nations in his Seven Dreams series of novels. His 1991 story collection, Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs, featured, “Grave of Lost Stories,” both about and in the gothic style of Edgar Allan Poe. 1996’s The Atlas retold the Battle of Masada in a biblical style in “The Hill of Gold,” took readers to the Heavenly Spheres in “Fortune Tellers,” and creeped-out every reader in “Incantations of the Murderer,” with its contemporary urban gothic flavor. What is new here for the Vollmann fan or idle reader is one big thick book, a world in a text, getting to delve deeply and unflinchingly into this dark, dark territory. I dream of a next generation of goth kids growing up on this book, because, back to my original point, it is gorgeous.

The first story in the collection, “Escape,” is a retelling of the “Romeo and Juliet” story of Sarajevo in 90s wartime. Nothing supernatural happens—except romantic love, which has its own atheists and agnostics—and the story is more akin to poetic war-correspondence than fiction; and yet at the close of those ten pages I was at tears. The shortest story, “The Answer,” is only six sentences (seventy words) and can still haunt its reader. The longest story, a ninety-page novella, “When We Were Seventeen,” is dense in heart-wrenching descriptions of nature and human interaction. Some of the stories make one feel what it would be like to actually live in a Grimm or Andersen fairy tale. It could be said that the writing is “difficult” or “challenging” but I would prefer not to talk down to a reader. The stories can provide escape, but like all great literature, they should also teach you something, even if it’s just to be a better reader. You might not know the painter Leonor Fini, but her surrealist work illustrates the covers of the book and she is a historical fiction character in the story, “Cat Goddess,” one of my favorites. Those who have run into me while out in the world reading this book have often been encouraged to read another favorite of mine, the story, “Defiance,” a mere three pages. “Defiance” starts off retelling the story of Abraham and Isaac—a life, death, and love story important in the three biggest “western” religions—until Vollmann gives it a turn that might make even D.H. Lawrence blush. My friend, Joey Carter, a brilliant PhD candidate in philosophy—after being forced/encouraged by me to read the story in a coffeeshop one evening—described its message as “sacrifice as training for love.” I quickly related this critique to Vollmann and it sparked an hour-long phone conversation about Abraham and Kierkegaard and the true meaning of faith and belief and love.

Poe, Lautreamont, Norse sagas, Japanese Hentai, surrealism, mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and the dark chaos of war are all influences and points of departure for Vollmann to direct and fire his own true voice like a weapon at death. With enough words in enough cultural voices maybe Vollmann will win; or die trying. It’s possible that this book just needs more word of mouth exposure, so I guess that’s what I’m doing here. Maybe this will be the book to make Vollmann a household name; people do like to be creeped-out and titillated from beyond the grave. You should read this book, it’s beautiful, and like the creeping vines of the story “Widow’s Weeds,” it will touch you everywhere.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HILA RATZABI


By Hila Ratzabi:


"Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess" broadside, designed by poet and visual artist MaryAnn Miller

“Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” broadside, designed by poet and visual artist MaryAnn Miller.



SEDNA IN SPACE

             “Our newly discovered object is the coldest most distant place known in the solar
             system, so we feel it is appropriate to name it in honor of Sedna, the Inuit goddess of
             the sea, who is thought to live at the bottom of the frigid arctic ocean.”
                                                                                                                     ––Mike Brown, astronomer

Now you’re nothing
but a dwarf planet at the edge
of the asteroid formerly known as Pluto,

neighbor to demoted planet,
atmosphere-less,
stunted.

When the scientists ran out of Greek and Roman gods
they settled on you, “Big Bad Woman,”
as one tribe puts it.

You are made of water,
methane, nitrogen ice,
frozen all over.

It takes you
more than ten thousand years
to orbit the Sun.

I want to place a blanket
around your shivering surface,
tuck you in surrounded by stars.

Where I’m from, we’ve released
so much heat into the sky
it’s burning us back.

But I can’t turn up the heat
at your edge of the solar system,
can’t drag you any closer to the Sun.

From your corner the Sun
Is a wink of a star, so small
you could block it out

with the head of a pin.
Just look what a nothing it is
next to you, big girl.


“Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” was previously published in Alaska Quarterly Review and “Sedna in Space” was previously published in Narrative. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Hila Ratzabi was selected by Adrienne Rich as a recipient of a National Writers Union Poetry Prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the chapbook The Apparatus of Visible Things (Finishing Line Press). Her poetry is published or forthcoming in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, Narrative, Alaska Quarterly Review, Drunken Boat, About Place, The Normal School, H_NGM_N, Cortland Review, and others. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Philadelphia where she founded the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop.


Editor’s Note: In Hila Ratzabi’s Sedna poems the Inuit goddess becomes a symbol of the trauma of climate crisis as explored through the lens of feminist response.

In “Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” we are introduced to Sedna’s creation myth. So, too, are we introduced to the misogyny and violence inherent in her tale. She is a “bitch goddess” whose father throws her to the sea and then cuts of her fingers when she tries to save herself.

In “Sedna in Space” we see Sedna rise again when a dwarf planet is discovered and named for her, but still she is “nothing / but a dwarf planet at the edge / of the asteroid formerly known as Pluto, // neighbor to demoted planet, / atmosphere-less, / stunted.” Through poetry, Ratzabi seeks to reclaim Sedna, to save her from the grips of oppression: “I want to place a blanket / around your shivering surface, / tuck you in surrounded by stars.” By shifting perspective, the poet empowers Sedna, making her grander than the sun: “From your corner the Sun / Is a wink of a star, so small / you could block it out // with the head of a pin. / Just look what a nothing it is / next to you, big girl.”


Want to read more by Hila Ratzabi?
Read recently published poems on climate change by Hila Ratzabi in About Place and Drunken Boat.
Learn about Hila’s poetry workshops in Philadelphia at The Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop.
Purchase “Sedna the Arctic Sea Goddess” broadside (pictured above).
Purchase “Sedna in Space” broadside (poem above).
Purchase The Apparatus of Visible Things chapbook.

Posted in Hila Ratzabi, Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: YEHUDA AMICHAI ON YOM KIPPUR


amichai


JERUSALEM, 1967
By Yehuda Amichai


On Yom Kippur in 1967, the Year of Forgetting, I put on
my dark holiday clothes and walked to the Old City of
Jerusalem.
For a long time I stood in front of an Arab’s hole-in-the-wall
shop,
not far from the Damascus Gate, a shop with
buttons and zippers and spools of thread
in every color and snaps and buckles.
A rare light and many colors, like an open Ark.
I told him in my heart that my father too
had a shop like this, with thread and buttons.
I explained to him in my heart about all the decades
and the causes and the events, why I am now here
and my father’s shop was burned there and he is buried here.
When I finished, it was time for the Closing of the Gates
prayer.
He too lowered the shutters and locked the gate
and I returned, with all the worshippers, home.


Today’s poem appears courtesy of NPR. Hear the poet read this poem for NPR here.


Editor’s Note: It has been forty-seven years since the day Yehuda Amichai stood in Jerusalem and took stock of his losses. Of the shared losses of Israel and Palestine. Of the cumulative losses of humanity when we fail to make and sustain peace. Little has changed in those 47 years, but today is Yom Kippur. A chance to acknowledge our wrongs, to leave them behind us, and to become better than we were last year.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish ‘Day of Atonement.’ Throughout the days leading up to the holiday, followers of the tradition ask for forgiveness from those they have wronged in the preceding year and cast away their sins. On Yom Kippur they ask for forgiveness from God. Your faithful editor is a secular Jew. I do not typically fast on Yom Kippur, as the holiday asks me to. I do not always manage to ask forgiveness. But the idea of the holiday resonates with me nonetheless. That once a year we might take stock of our humanity, meditate on those things we are sorry for, and then let them go so that we might begin again.

As today is Yom Kippur, I wanted to share with you a poem that speaks to the crimes of humanity. To war and destruction. To neighbors fighting neighbors. There has been too much of this in the past year. Too much hatred. Too many deaths. May today’s poem help us reflect upon our wrongdoings, and may we begin again with a new hope for peace.


Want more Yehuda Amichai, courtesy of NPR?
Hear Yehuda Amichai read “Jerusalem, 1967″
Love, War and History: Israel’s Yehuda Amichai
Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai
Israeli Poet Yehuda Amichai Dies at 76

Posted in Saturday Poetry, Saturday Poetry Series, Yehuda Amichai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment