“When I happened to be dating a Chekhov expert, who became my wife, Chekhov became even more important in my life, because I had somebody who really knew Chekhov and who I could talk about him with. And also endings are very important in my short stories, and he is the master of endings. I admire something that he does and that is just to get out of a story easily, quickly. I used to tell my students, “If you have any problem with ending a story, just shut the door, close the window. Have the characters say goodbye and leave, just simply end the story.” And I’m fascinated by the endings of short stories and how poorly it can be done and how easily it can be done, too. By just sort of ending. Simply.”—The Rumpus Interview With Stephen Dixon
“Writing “routine” is really generous. Mostly in my twenties, I had a drinking routine and a getting-in-trouble routine. I always wrote about what I was doing—I’ve kept an obsessive journal since I was four or five, I made zines, I wrote terrible short stories. I wrote a million letters, I wrote essays for long-defunct anarchist publications. But it’s really only in the last few years that I’ve made up anything routine-like, and even then it’s pretty haphazard. I’m a work-in-progress.”—The Rumpus Interview With Sarah McCarry
“It is something else,” the man says,
“when your own son chooses violin
over football.” Nothing another’s
sons would do: their desire
to lean themselves onto huddled
shoulders, the thick of slingshot bodies,
to crash, collapse—flesh, helmet, bone
hammered to the ground.
They lift themselves into the embracing air,
shake off the world, fasten on the next play.”—From “Practice I,” a poem in Viral by Suzanne Parker, reviewed by Sean Singer over at the Rumpus.Viral is a book of elegies for Tyler Clementi. Clementi was a Rutgers undergraduate who jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010.
My ex-wife—well, she wasn’t my ex yet when this all happened: she was still my disappointed wife, my ashamed wife, my why-did-I-pick-this-fucking-guy wife—decided that we should forget about the fact that we hated each other and go out to a fancy Valentine’s Day dinner. It was only one meal after all and what could go wrong?
“One particularly meta moment came while riding the 30 Stockton bus through Chinatown. A group of young black kids listened to Eminem on a boom box whine out the phrase ‘Superman ain’t savin shit’ at the precise moment I was reading Als’ statement about Eminem: ‘To say, as many critics have, that whites steal from blacks who originate important work in music or fashion is beside the point….Mathers never claimed whiteness and its privileges as his birthright because he didn’t feel white and privileged.’ There in that moment, I couldn’t help but realize that things were being said that we couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about with one another on an everyday bus ride. A man sitting next to me leaned over and asked, ‘What the hell kind of book is that?’”—The Rumpus Review of White Girls by Hilton Als, by Anisse Gross
Well. I sailed across ten-thousand miles of salt and shaking seas, straight into an auspicious storm, wroth, as if all the wind in the world had gathered there to strip me of my sails. I saw the blue lightning. A rogue wave swept me from the deck of my boat and carried me away, far out into a sea that was eerily calm thereafter. I drifted for the rest of the day until night fell and I thought perhaps if I could touch the moon’s reflection on the water it would somehow, someway bring me to safety. I swam and swam and only reached exhaustion.
Struggling to stay afloat, I let myself sink beneath the surface and for a moment closed my eyes, trading one darkness for another. When I opened them again I saw below me a lovely glow. It was so pretty I couldn’t stop myself from swimming down, down to where shapes moved and the silhouette of colossal teeth appeared in the midnight water.
Staring into the open and enormous mouth of an anglerfish, huge and hideous, I was swallowed whole. I can’t say how long I spent in the stomach of the beast; how does one reckon time in the lightless guts of what surely must have been an old god? Hungry. The anglerfish had swallowed everything it seemed: entire schools of fish, a merchant ship with its champagne cargo still intact, a rustless sword (this I took for my own), and great blooms of jellyfish that glowed pale and blue in the darkness. I sat on the wreckage of the ship and ate disgusting fish, listening to the sharks, lesser predators, thrash and die in the bile. In the waste I found fourteen blue bottles, and inside were fourteen letters. I popped a bottle of champagne and began to read:
“If you submitted only genre work, it would probably be the death of your application. If I were a judge or if I taught in a writing program, and somebody turned in one short story that showed that they knew beauty and knew how to write sentence-by-sentence and used great diction and arresting prose, that’d be wonderful. If their second piece showed me that they knew how people talk or that they could write an intriguing and unique plot, she would be a shoe-in for me.”—The Rumpus Interview With David Schickler, in which he talks about MFA APPLICATIONS.
“When VHS cassettes first came out, I thought they were just about the most futuristic invention in the world, and that technology could advance no further than movies in your television (well, that and one-way beepers). When I was coming up, my household owned just two videos, which I watched in perpetual rotation: the musical The Wiz, and Eddie Murphy’s 1983 stand-up act Delirious.”—T Cooper talks gender, Eddie Murphy, and book publishing in Ease On Down.
You know it’s a small world when you devour a book and you Google the author because you want to profess your undying love for her words and you notice she gave a reading at The Last Bookstore in October and you text Zoë Ruiz and she reminds you that you were, in fact, at that reading and hey, remember that one author who read from her book and you really liked it? Yeah, well, that’s her. That’s Amina Cain.
During the holiday, I read the short-short stories in Amina’s Creature all in one sitting. I dog-eared just about every other page and then I read it again on the flight home. Her writing is unique, hard for me to pin down exactly.
"When I got home, my partner was eating an egg. This is what he does when I’m not around. He also eats fish. I was harsh to him, but without speaking. I expressed myself through the violent putting away of a pan. Later I sat on his lap and dreamed about the future. This was together alone."
At times when I was reading Amina’s work I thought, this is poetry. No, this is prose. No, this is not like anything I’ve ever read before.
"It’s beautiful how long a friendship can last, even when it is awkward to be around each other. Even when there is nothing to say, neither person wants to let go. I think this is because the body still remembers the relationship, and most likely the bodies keep it alive in spite of the mind…The body remembers. The body wants to have its own relationship. The mind will have to say something about it afterwards, or, sometimes the mind doesn’t have to say anything at all."
The black crow coughs/ barks. The white dove says God bless you. Rain kicks at the firmament; the mud wants it bad. That bad dirt. I want the way my father shut a fence door latch. The way my mother picked blood out of egg yolks. I miss all of you, hands. Please know that I would have been too queer for your country. Oh, mother, watch this: I can stand on my hands, I can walk to you that way. Oh, watch the white dove!
“That I might have God again, that I might know him, that I might make him my own. That I might pull him into my center and grow the magic bean of him in my belly. I have sprouted a God head, I have birthed a fire. I am lifting him toward heaven, lifting his broken spine and backward arms up to the clouds. A million birds peck him apart, flying him in every direction all at once so that everywhere all the babies are full of God and the God in my belly issues forth into a golden age of Gods, so full the universe is of us, Gods every one.”—My Eyes Are Watching God by Rebecca Cook
“I’m not altogether sure where work ends and private life begins. Desire pulses through our work as well as our intimate relationships. What we do shapes our being and our days. It’s true I’ve written about some unusual occupations: a female astronaut who’s also a mother; a woman who studies war. I don’t know that I choose professions for characters as much as pursue zones of deep interest that generate professions as well as internal and external conflicts that arise from what characters do. In Claire’s Head, my last novel, Claire is a cartographer. Mapping is both a profession and a way of looking at the world.”—The Rumpus Interview with Catherine Bush
“I heard the name Islan Nettles the other evening, while listening to poetry at my local Harlem café. Islan was a young transgender woman beaten to death in Harlem last August. She’d left a party around midnight and, while walking on the street with friends, encountered a group of men. At least one of them began taunting her with homophobic slurs, then knocked her down and beat her face until it was unrecognizable. The prime suspect in the case, Paris Wilson, was charged with misdemeanor assault at the time, before Islan died a week later. Last week the charge against Wilson was dropped. The case was complicated, the district attorney said. Another credible suspect had turned himself in to police a week after she died. They were both viable suspects. Murder charges could still be forthcoming, said the DA, for Wilson or the other man.
I thought back to the woman who stopped and faced me on the street last spring. Maybe it was Islan walking to see some friends, or on her way home from work, like me. Perhaps it was simply someone else who was born to be a woman.
There are certain simulacra, certain small disturbances of life we recreate, reimagine—months, years later—people and places where we stopped, aware suddenly of the hidden souls, muted voices all around us.
I walk home from work each night now and ask myself if she’s just around the corner, waiting with her arm cocked to her waist, posed and frozen. What would we say to each other if she were? Where does one begin? If only I’d stopped that night—I tell myself now—paused there in front of her, I might have known her name.”—Silent Streets, Empty Runway by Geoff Bendeck
Behind these eyes that look like mine old names are fading away, the past lies crumpled in my clenched fist - a coppery bird in coppery wind, this vast place has covered me from head to toe.
I am not stripped of word and thought but sometimes what I want to say gets lost like a moon smudged with cloud, or when I splutter on a drink. My tongue trips up when I speak of that journey though the blood in my veins felt the truth of death. As I traced my footsteps through the tracery of my old language Summer whispered to me and my frozen fingers began to put out shoots even as I began to love the cold ebb and flow of tides.
Sometimes I miss the boat that brought me here, now that I am witness to the icy eyes of a Swedish winter, under these tired old clouds, while that suitcase still holds a patch of the sky-blue me.
“While everyone knows Santa probably isn’t real, if he is, this delivery service could be useful for him. No more having to squeeze down a chimney when he can send a helicopter instead. Unfortunately, helicopters can’t eat cookies and milk.”—Ted Wilson Reviews the World #210: Amazon’s Delivery Drones
“Yet Olsen’s true interest is more expansive than the “feminist” or “women’s experience” label would seem to imply. These are stories about the variety of ways that people need love—friendship, compassion, charity—and offer it to each other. Olsen’s moral code is unfashionably traditional, and the work gleams with a deep humanity.
“For me, it’s not just that we live in an environment in which rock and roll bands don’t have particular relevance. The implications are worse than that. The implications are that we don’t even live in a world in which musical collaboration is possible in the way it once was. Because a band, at its best (as I have said elsewhere), is bigger than its particulate matter, and requires give and take, and though there may be fights for supremacy in the band context, the molecule is at its best when the participants are of equal throw weight in the context of the band. All those bands that are just brands not bands, with few, if any, original members, and one guy who feels great, now that he has gotten well clear of that annoying bass player, the one with the annoying throat-clearing tendency, these are not bands at all.”—Swinging Modern Sounds #52: Chris Abrahams Riffs by you know who (Rick Moody).
“The success of the Rumpus Poetry Book Club is proof that an audience exists for serious, quality poetry, and if you are reading this, I assume you are part of that audience. I also assume that you have people on your gift list who are intimidated by good verse. If I’m right, treat them to a copy of A Glossary of Chickens by Gary Whitehead. It’s skillful and beautiful without being twee, and like every book I’m about to mention, it deserves a wide audience. It’s also gently amusing, with some high-flying acrobatics thrown in that never feel forced.”—Barbara Berman’s 2nd Annual Holiday Book Column
When Keats is engaged with poetry, which is all the time, he’s always envisioning a grand scope and scale to his work, measuring it against everything and everybody he considers to be colossally great (often this is Shakespeare). His enthusiasm knows no bounds. Discussing Keats’ Odes, Beachy-Quick points out the hazards of such extreme engagement:
The Odes record enthusiasm’s complications. The etymology of the word is telling: to be possessed by a god. Keats seeks not simply inspiration, but enthusiasm—a state of fervered apprehension, where possession and perception are aspects of one another, not the work of the solitary witness, but of the poet asking to see through a god’s eyes even as he looks through his own.
“The DNA of the novel—which, if I begin to write nonfiction, I will write about this—is that: the title of the novel is the whole novel. The first line of the novel is the whole novel. The point of view is the whole novel. Every subplot is the whole novel. The verb tense is the whole novel.”—
“The year is 1957, and it’s hard to tell the difference between revolution and regime: Tommy Tomorrow’s spaceship is propelling toward some new calamity in space, somewhere in the far-off West, Wild Bill Hickok is polishing his six-shooter for the next duel, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are swatting mosquitoes in the Sierra Maestra mountains, Scrooge McDuck is counting his gold coins, The West Side Boys are crucifying lizards, and Papa Lorenzo is in his Closet of Souvenirs, dusting off Father Stalin’s picture and dreaming of the revolution.”—In her review of Leapfrog And Other Stories, Jessica Michalofsky explores the grotesquely comic world of Cuban writer Guillermo Rosales.
“I get identified with this psychotic moment of the so-called ’60s, and then I look around at a street scene like this right in front of us. I see young people going to school, and their parents and their grandparents, and old people, and homeless people. And I think we’re really all of this generation. One hundred years from now, we’ll all be dead. It’s hard to believe. One hundred years from now, everyone we see every day will be gone.”—The Sunday Rumpus Interview: Bill Ayers talks about his controversial life and new memoir with his daughter-in-law Rachel DeWoskin
I had never read Donna Tartt’s cult favorite, The Secret History (which prompted Alexander Nazaryan to write in a recent review for Newsweek, “there are two types of readers: those who know that Donna Tartt’s 1992 The Secret History is the finest debut in late 20th century American fiction and those whose opinion can be safely discounted”). Since my expectations for The Goldfinch were constructed entirely upon the enthusiasms of other people for Donna Tartt, I felt it necessary to read her first novel after I finished this, her third. And I enjoyed The Secret History. But there are some things, like Heathers or Star Wars, that need to be watched or read at precisely the right moment in your development or you are doomed not to really get them, and to forever get the side eye from those who do.
“The obsession began at one in the morning, though, with me sober, waiting up for my then-girlfriend, who I knew was cheating. I sat on the porch looking out at the quiet city block, making unreturned calls, lighting cigarettes off one another. Occasionally a car drifted by, all lights and power. Eventually I went inside and turned on Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and smoked more cigarettes as I lay in the dark on my bed.”— Songs of Our Lives: Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”, lauded by Sam Price