Niki Neems (Safety Book #34)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?



Tremble by C.D. Wright. The poems mimic the absurdity and humiliation found within moments of intimacy and illuminate the blurred shape of being a human in the world. I love the pace of this book. It is leisurely reminiscent and quietly erotic. Each of these short, lyric poems can stand alone, but when bundled together, they become a complex, winding narrative.

2. Where were you when you first read, saw or heard of this book?

I was at work, a retail job, when a friend of mine unexpectedly began to recite: “Everything good between men and women / has been written in mud and butter /and barbecue sauce. The walls and /the floors used to be gorgeous. / The socks off-white and a near match. / The quince with fire blight / but we get two pints of jelly…” I know now that this is the beginning of the poem “Everything Good Between Men and Women,” but at the time my reaction was more visceral. I didn’t think of myself as a poet then, hadn’t spent much time thinking about poetry, but after locking up that night, I went immediately around the corner to the bookstore and paged through each and every one of C.D. Wright’s books until I found those memorable first lines. I bought a copy of Tremble because I had to read the end of that poem.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?


This messy, vulnerable book made me want more poetry. I still appreciate the way the poems become at times too tender and nostalgic, too finite, keeping me aware that being human means always being in the middle, uncertain, unfinished. These poems say without saying that all endings are pretend, staged for the participants, because in reality, if we are brave, we know that endings are non-existent.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…



Just typing them again makes me happy. “Everything good between men and women / has been written in mud and butter /and barbecue sauce. The walls and /the floors used to be gorgeous. / The socks off-white and a near match. / The quince with fire blight / but we get two pints of jelly…”

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

This book is out of print and hard to get a hold of, but I’ve loaned my copy to so many people who say they don’t read poetry I can’t remember them all. I like that my book has been in so many people’s hands. It’s worn and the binding is broken. It opens naturally to the lines above.

***

Bio: Niki Neems received an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where she owns a neighborhood stationery shop.

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2013 Black Box Poetry Prize Results

Dear Readers,

Rescue Press is excited to announce Bridgette Bates of Los Angeles, CA as the winner of this year’s Black Box Poetry Prize. Bridgette’s manuscript, What Is Not Missing Is Light, was chosen by our judge, Heather Christle, and will be published in Fall 2014.

We would also like to thank all of the poets who sent us wonderful work as well as congratulate the finalists (below) and remind you that Todd Melicker’s rendezvous, winner of last year’s Black Box  Prize, will be released this November along with two other books: The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, and Jonathan Blum’s novella, Last Word.

Love,
Rescue Press

R+Poetry

Finalists:

Carrie Olivia Adams: Operating Theater
Oliver Bendorf: The Spectral Wilderness
Thea Brown: Think of the Danger
Stella Corso: Eat Island
Phil Estes: Daddio(s)
Annie Guthrie: let x (be rogue)
Leif Haven: The Belly of Things
Anne Holmes: Junk Parade
Laura Kochman: The Bone and the Body
Matthew Mahaney: The Storm That Bears Your Name
Matt McBride: City of Incandescent Light Bulbs
Rachel Mortiz: Small Room for Arrivals
Montreux Rotholtz: Unmark
Stephanie Schlaifer: Clarkston Street Polaroids
Steven Toussaint: The Bellfounder

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Katie Chase (Safety Book #33)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

We Have Always Lived In the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. I normally might have chosen a collection of stories, as I’ve fallen in love with a lot of these, but I’ve been trying in recent years to unravel how novels are even possible. This one, to me, is a perfect little book (and perfect works of fiction, to me, will probably always be little, page-wise). Its covers contain a world singular and strange, shown through the eyes of an off-kilter narrator with a wickedly crafted voice, at once blunt and withholding. In her typical super-smart approach to genre, Jackson brings to horror great psychological acuity, reality, and a sense of the mythic. I imagine she came to the idea through the image of the archetypal creepy house in any town, the hermit spinsters sometimes inside, and in exploring their lives from within, reveals just about every fear the villagers have of them to be true, while the villagers too come out as pretty frightful antagonists. It seems to me rather intricately plotted—such base technical concerns are infinitely fascinating to me as a writer of fiction—with a present conflict that masterfully reveals the past piece by piece through current action. At every turn, through language, character, plot, this book just holds so many delights and surprises for the reader and writer in me both.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

When I first read this book I was, like Merricat, the novel’s narrator, in a world hostile to me—in my case, traveling Russia, in accompaniment of a friend conducting research for her own novel. Even when a Russian was reluctantly helping us maneuver ourselves through their landscape, we did not receive one smile in return for our desperate ones (neither are we typical smilers). Unlike Merricat, I had not committed murder (although, yes, my country had done some terrible things and I was rude enough to only know English). But I had just killed, or placed a pause on, a novel I’d been trying to get going for the better part of a year and fled the rents of San Francisco for a more temporary situation, crashing with family. I was very much between worlds, and this distilled little narrative was an anchor.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

When I finished it I thought, this is the kind of book I want to write: it’s a fairly simple story, but it’s harder than one might think to keep a story simple while also making it one’s own and telling it slant; it’s short enough to be ingested in a single or just a few sittings, to wholly immerse a reader, and make a strong  impact; it takes from established traditions but makes the familiar feel utterly new. I put aside my old idea—too amorphous, I decided—and started on a new one. I don’t know that writing a book like this is in actuality what I’ve since been doing, but it gives me something to strive for, a rope to grab onto when I feel myself out in strange waters that may or may not be part of my characters’ story. I even sat down with a notepad and mapped out its structure when completely struggling with mine (which of course needs structural solutions unique to its own narrative puzzles). Generally I don’t like to look at books so mathematically, but luckily in doing so I found a little messiness and even more to admire in hers.

Inline image 14. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

Since this is such a concise, narrative-driven book, I’m not sure how well excerpts from its scenes hold out of context. She certainly doesn’t have too many lines that make you say, I know just how Merricat feels! This book is a near-total escape from life as you probably know it, but that’s one of its great accomplishments, and I’ve had a lot of fun in tracing all the little clues along the way to the big reveal that give the ending that surprising-yet-inevitable effect storytellers strive for. I love the way Merricat’s murderous, obsessive thoughts intrude suddenly, repeatedly, and play against her more poetic or empathetically normal moments. Three brief sections from Merricat’s trip to the village in the first chapter:

“I liked my house on the moon, and I put a fireplace in it and a garden outside (what would flourish, growing on the moon? I must ask Constance) and I was going to have lunch outside in my garden on the moon. Things on the moon were very bright, and odd colors; my little house would be blue… I thought of catching scarlet fish in the rivers on the room and saw that the Harris boys were in their front yard, clamoring and quarreling with half a dozen other boys. I had not been able to see them until I came past the corner by the town hall, and I could still have turned back and gone the other way, up the main highway to the creek, and then across the creek and home along the other half of the path to our house, but it was late, and I had the groceries, and the creek was nasty to wade in our mother’s brown shoes, and I thought, I am living on the moon, and I walked quickly. They saw me at once, and I thought of them rotting away and curling in pain and crying out loud; I wanted them doubled up and crying on the ground in front of me.”

“It was strange to be inside myself, walking steadily and rigidly past the fence, putting my feet down strongly but without haste that they might have noticed, to be inside and know that they were looking at me; I was hiding very far inside but I could hear them and see them still from one corner of my eye. I wished they were all lying there dead on the ground.”

“’Can’t you make them stop?’ I asked her that day, wondering if there was anything in this woman I could speak to, if she had ever run joyfully over grass, or had watched flowers, or known delight or love. ‘Can’t you make them stop?’

‘Kids,’ she said, not changing her voice or her look or her air of dull enjoyment, ‘don’t call the lady names.’

‘Yes, ma,’ one of the boys said soberly.

‘Don’t go near no fence. Don’t call no lady names.’

And I walked on, while they shrieked and shouted and the woman stood on the porch and laughed.

Merricat, said Connie, would like a cup of tea?

Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.

Their tongues will burn, I thought, as though they had eaten fire. Their throats will burn when the words come out, and in their bellies they will feel a torment hotter than a thousand fires.”

And so on.

In addition to the nursery rhyme communally composed by the village and chanted by its children to keep Merricat at bay (appearing in part above), Jackson shows Merricat herself to hold a magic bag of superstitions. She wishes she’d had the luck to be born a werewolf, but her index fingers on both hands are not quite long enough (the same length as her middle). She has buried her baby teeth on the house’s grounds in hopes that they might someday grow as dragons. She speaks a magic word into an empty glass, fills it with water, and drinks it down.

How can one fail to be enchanted? And wish her enemies writhing on the ground? And push oneself to come up with details half as memorable and creative?

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I’m sending this to my sixteen-year-old cousin, a voracious reader and mostly well-behaved young woman I secretly view as my protege. I don’t know that she’ll delight in the malevolent spinsterhood in quite the way that I do, but I think this is the kind of book that one can read simply, with delight for a well-told story, and also with a deepening appreciation for its clever crafting and sly wit.

***

Katie Chase is a fiction writer originally from a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, and currently living in Portland, Oregon. Her fiction can be found, for instance, in Five Chapters, Narrative, Zyzzyva, and Best American Short Stories 2008.

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Margaret LeMay (Safety Book #32)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why? 2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book? 3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, ed. Donald Allen.

This was the book and the poet, spring semester of my first year of college, that made me want to be a poet. Frank O’Hara was the first poet whose work I’d ever read that was like, well, Frank O’Hara’s. The conversational timbre, the street names and city and heat and times-of-day. The oranges and sardines. The Grace and Jane and apple in the mouth. The exuberance. The exclamation points.

I was in New York City, which was the only place I wanted to be and it is safe to say slightly contributed to my total and utter obsession in life and breath and writing with Frank O’Hara’s poetry. I was a walking, talking fount of lunch and 52nd Street and Frank O’Hara. I don’t ever want to know how many poems I wrote that included some version of, “It is 12:20 in New York a Friday [and…]” …Ever.

I reread some of this collection, because you’re always referencing in some manner Frank O’Hara or whoever your own first poet-idol-love was, no? Frank O’Hara’s life ended at age 40. I am notably closer to 40 today than I was at 18. I found myself appreciating his work for his, still his, and always his, way of breaking it real and making it real. His generosity. And also a deflection, a diffusion, a rejection of not only the contrived and dull, but of a certain vulnerability as well. Which is not to say the poems don’t contain it. They are youth to me, for always.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

I adore this book. I bought it in hardcover at Prairie Lights in Iowa City when it came out in 2005. It is the power of Murakami’s writing that once within that world, there is a part of you that stays unsure you left. And perhaps you haven’t. Because Murakami’s work at its best is a total and insanely effective unraveling of distinctions. Narrative versus abstract. Answer versus… “answer.” Dream versus reality. Reality versus reality. Within book versus extra-book, and that, I think, is why Kafka on the Shore in particular hit me in the gut. The book literally speaks to itself and of itself to you as the reader and climbs out of its not-self and right into your ear canal and ribcage… concurrently. Its protagonists themselves are distinct humans, but sometimes it’s impossible to tell who is talking through, or via, which body and from when and where.

There is a journey in this book that is multiple journeys and possibly no journey outside of the mind. There is a coming together and a reconciliation that may or may not have happened, at least not between the same people in the same place in location and history at the same time. But it might have. Or maybe where it does, and the only place it does, is not in the book itself but in your reader’s mind and heart. Like the narrative, as we anticipate that structure, literally depends on you. Needs you. Is you.

Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy

I read this collection yesterday. Brenda Shaughnessy is so talented. Her work is vibrant, shapely, syllabic and sound, living intelligent, musical, intricate, funny. Abstract yet local, local but awe-making.

The title poem of this collection is beyond powerful. It is in the most general terms about a mother’s delivery of her son. It is about complication and heartbreak and fury and above all, love. It is one of the most courageous poems I have ever read, and I will never forget it. It is in fact a poem that is parenthood, motherhood: it’s brave and it’s beautiful and its feelings are hurt and its body hurts and it’s right and it’s wrong and it has no the f- idea which is which and it’s blinding and blinded by itself and love. Most, it is hope, giving.

It’s also 21 pages long. I had to look, and I couldn’t believe that. It feels like it is a page, because it is in fact a page-turner, if you can see the page, because you are also crying.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

“and your brown lashes flutter revealing two perfect dawns colored by New York/ see a vast bridge stretching to the humbled outskirts with only you/ standing on the edge of the purple like an only tree”

“I nod. ‘I know you can do it.’ I nod again. ‘You’d better get some sleep,’ the boy named Crow says. ‘When you wake up, you’ll be part of a brand-new world.’ You finally fall asleep. And when you wake up, it’s true. You are part of a brand-new world.”

“The leaves, little green lamps for the sunblind.”

The first is from O’Hara’s “Now That I Am in Madrid and Can Think.” The second is Murakami. The pronoun shift. The pronoun shift. The third is from Shaughnessy’s “Vacation.”

lemay5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I will send a copy of perhaps not the Selected but Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems to my first-year college roommate. It will make her either smile or shriek.

I have sent or given or inflicted Kafka on the Shore upon a number of people in years past. Last autumn, I sent it to another dear friend from college who had relocated from one coast to the other.

I will share “Our Andromeda,” the title poem, with the same college roommate. She has a young son now. Also, with a friend here in Iowa City, a mother of three small children who is doing an amazing job every day.

***

Bio: Margaret LeMay’s poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Little Village, Transom, and elsewhere. She lives in a green house, a house painted green, with her three-year-old son in Iowa City.

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Nate Hoks (Safety Book #31)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I love this book because I struggled to love it. At one point I disliked it. I used to teach 10th grade English and the book was part of the curriculum. When I started the job, I was none too thrilled by the book. I found it ridiculous, improbable, belabored and confusing – and I felt guilty asking my students to be responsible for the details of a book that baffled me. But over time, after teaching it year after year, Wuthering Heights took a firm hold on me. By the fifth or sixth time reading the book, I was an unabashed lover of the book. Brontë inhabits a kind of demonic mania in the love and hauntedness of Heathcliff and Catherine; but she constantly refracts our sense of this mania through layers and layers of framed narration. It is a tour-de-force of voice and design, and yet it never feels classical or academic or formulaic. I can’t even begin to explain how much I admire this coupling of a fierce, fiery, romantic imagination with a labyrinthine, intelligent, unpredictable structural design. The narrative design is as twisted as the plot, as twisted as the incest, as twisted as the transgressions and cruelty and violence and hypocrisy at the root of the novel; and in a sense, it is the vine from which all of these ghoulish elements sprout.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

The first time I read the book I was a sophomore in high school. I had to do a book report on it. I don’t remember very much about the experience, probably because I didn’t get the book at all. As a male teen growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, the rugged terrain of the Moors and the violent and erratic passions of Heathcliff and Catherine didn’t speak to me. The second time I read Wuthering Heights I was in my late 20s teaching sophomore English in New England. To an extent, my experience teaching high school was pivotal to my gradual love of the book because it was, for me, an experience of uncanny repetition: every year the rhythm of the academic calendar would evoke memories of my time as a high school student. As a result, that raw, emotional and awkward time in life was constantly re-animated in my psyche. Well, Brontë structures Wuthering Heights as a narrative of uncanny repetition, so I feel like it’s vital that my reading and teaching of the book was infused with these personal repetitions. Just as the second generation of characters repeats the first generation, with all their monstrous mutations and degenerations, so too did I repeat my teen years, year after year, day after day, with all the monstrosity and mutation (and sweetness!) of memory and sentiment.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

Wuthering Heights has influenced me in many ways, more so in my thinking and sense of the world than in my writing, though it has opened up thematic territories to me as well. It has affected the way I think about place, the self, being haunted, cruelty, and repetition. Wuthering Heights has also influenced the way I think about race and the rampant social hypocrisies that persist in Christian communities that are supposedly based on love. When Mr. Earnshaw brings home Heathcliff, this “thing” who is “dark almost as if it came from hell,” he is an orphan; but as much as Mr. Earnshaw is attempting an act of charity, it backfires and Heathcliff is basically re-orphaned into this isolated Yorkshire community where even the one person with whom he has a spiritual bond turns on him. And in a sense, most of the major characters, from Lockwood to Nelly Dean to Isabella to Catherine Linton, experience a kind of orphaning as they move between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, the two estates of the novel. So despite the closeness of the novel’s intimate community, there is a constant sense of abandonment and personal isolation, as if every single character were a freakish outsider. Brontë enhances these feelings through all the atmospherics of the text – the storms, the descriptions of the Moors, the haunted enclosed spaces, the frenzied and hallucinatory narrations.

And a great deal of power comes with that outsider status. Like a potent contagion, Heathcliff radically contaminates the hypocritical purity of the novel’s privileged and reclusive society. And as with all contagions, the process is basically copied in a myriad of ways: for example, Catherine Earnshaw, after marrying Edgar, contaminates Thrushcross Grange and the entire Linton sense of propriety; or in an ironic reversal, Catherine Linton, contaminates the degeneration that has taken root at Wuthering Heights, altering the mindsets of both Linton and Hareton. You can trace this zigzagging of contamination, mimesis, repetition and reversal all over the novel. It’s dizzying.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

‘Disturbed her? No! She has disturbed me, night and day through eighteen years – incessantly – remorselessly – till yesternight – and yesternight, I was tranquil. I dreamt I was sleeping the last sleep, by that sleeper, with my heart stopped, and my cheek frozen against hers.

‘And if she had been dissolved into earth, or worse, what would you have dreamt of then?’ I [Nelly] said.

‘Of dissolving with her, and being more happy still!’ he [Heathcliff] answered. ‘Do you suppose I dread any change of that sort?’

Here Nelly, the housekeeper and principle narrator, is questioning Heathcliff about his graveyard pastimes. Heathcliff tells her that he bribed the sexton to give him a peak at Catherine’s yet decayed body (it’s been fifteen years since her death, but the body hasn’t decayed, apparently, because of the unique chemical composition of the peaty soil in the Moors). Nelly, horrified, asks if he is worried that he has disturbed her spirit. Heathcliff’s narration of digging up Catherine’s grave is one of the memorable transgressions in the book. Not only is he unearthing the dead, a big no-no, but there’s also a hint of necrophilia because we all know there’s no place more erotic than the grave.

I used to ask my students if this was the meaning of true love, loving someone so much that you want to decay with them. Imagine putting that in your wedding vows! Traditionally, death is the limit of the vow (“until death do us part”), but here we have to wait until death for the ultimate consummation, the long co-decay. But it’s powerful, too, because for all the improbability of the novel, Brontë is confronting the hard facts of our material existence. The dissolution of the body here basically mimics the dissolution of the self in the novel’s variation of romantic love. What you get is this unsettling blend of the macabre image of bodily decay with the ecstasy of romantic-erotic love. Death marries sex and transgression leads to a sanctimonious union.

There’s also a wonderful ironic sense that the living is haunting the dead, as if life itself (for Heathcliff) were a kind of ghostly act of haunting since his imagination and entire psychology is basically focused on a dead woman for the better part of 20 years. He becomes more otherworldly, less human, more of a “goblin” in Nelly’s words, until his final transfixion and death. Catherine’s ghost is reported throughout the book, and once Heathcliff dies, sightings of his ghost are also reported, but the living Heathcliff was already a ghost-in-life. There is a truth to this ghosting in that memory makes ghosts of us all.

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

All the Catherine’s I know, namely my sister, and two fantastic poets Catherine Theis and Katherine Hollander.

***
Nathan Hoks is the author of Reveilles, which won Salt Publishing’s Crashaw Prize in 2010 and The Narrow Circle (Penguin, 2013). His poems and translations have appeared in Crazyhorse, Lit, Circumference, and Verse. He is an editor and letterpress printer for Convulsive Editions, and lives with his wife and son in Chicago.

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Kara Candito (Safety Book #30)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

Robert Bolaño’s 2666, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. It’s a big, rambling 900-page epic that is roughly about the femicide in Juarez, Mexico (which is called Santa Teresa in the novel), although it’s really a messy, digressive mirror of modern life that tackles everything from globalism, to corruption, to intellectualism, to poverty, the family, and the violence of twentieth century history.

When I first read 2666, I was skeptical about contemporary literature’s capacity to speak to a world where terrible large-scale things happen. This is the kind of impossible and necessary work that I wish more poets and fiction writers would tackle.

Bolaño ropes the reader in with the hilarious opening section, “The Part about the Critics,” which documents the lives of four European scholars brought together by their mutual love of an obscure fictional Prussian novelist, Benno Von Achimboldi. In one sense, this section is a scathing critique of the politics of literary scholarship and its hegemonic conferences and cliques. On the other, it’s an insanely accurate exploration of how we fall in love with books, and how the formation of this love is often contingent upon biographical moments. Here, one of the scholars, the character Liz Norton, first reads Achimboldi on a rainy day:

Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallised spiderwebs or the briefest crystallised vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

Thinking about the first time I read Lorca or Plath, it was as if I’d taken a splendid drug that made the world strange again.

The fact that, in latter sections of the book, some of these scholarly characters with whom many of Bolaño’s readers might relate, get sucked into the vortex of violence in Santa Teresa reflects the book’s investment in a world that is at once contrapuntal, nihilistic, and collective.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

It was in the spring of 2009, when I was in the third year of a doctoral program at Florida State University. I’d just finished comp exams, and I wanted to read something I hadn’t been required to suck the joy out of through formal analysis. In one sense, 2666 invites literary critique; it’s part crime novel and postmodern novel with echoes of Marquez and Kafka. It even incorporates characters from Bolaño’s other works. On the other, the book resists critique, or makes it feel cheap and reductive.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

As a poet, I have a hard time making decisions in terms of language, structure and syntax. I want to steal from ten different linguistic registers and exploit dashes, white space, and parentheses. I also want to speak to a fluid and messy world where real things happen. Bolaño gives me hope that the real and even the “political” can be approached via diffusion, repetition, and fragmentation; that emotional truth is often chaotic and inchoate.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

Still, American television is full of smiles and more and more perfect-looking teeth. Do these people want us to trust them? No. Do they want us to think they’re good people? No again. The truth is they don’t want anything from us. They just want to show us their teeth, their smiles, and admiration is all they want in return. Admiration. They want us to look at them, that’s all. Their perfect teeth, their perfect bodies, their perfect manners, as if they were constantly breaking away from the sun and they were little pieces of fire, little pieces of blazing hell, here on this planet simply to be worshipped.

Holy shit. First of all, the patterning of rhetorical question and pithy response. Also, the relentless repetition of perfect. And finally, the wild association: “as if they were constantly breaking away from the sun and they were little pieces of fire, little pieces of blazing hell, here on this planet simply to be worshipped.” How did we get from the synthetic perfection of bodies on American television to the sun? I don’t know, but I believe it. Also, I don’t think Bolaño cares whether or not I believe it. Whether it’s the sun or the desert, this vision of hell as a burning surface gets repeated throughout the book. The petty hell of TV gets connected to the profound hell of a desert city where hundreds of women are raped and murdered. A universe of teeth and fire.

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I haven’t sent this book to anyone officially. My copy is precious and mangled. I did recommend this book to my friend, the poet Liz Countryman. I think 2666 is a poet’s novel.

***

Kara Candito is the author of Taste of Cherry, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize (University of Nebraska Press, 2009). A recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Colony, Candito teaches creative writing at UW-Platteville and serves as the poetry editor of Driftless Review (www.karacandito.com).

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Wendy Xu (Safety Book #29)

wendyxu1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

Nadja by Andre Breton (the Grove Press edition, translated by Richard Howard). I came to French surrealism “late,” whatever that means, maybe I just mean that by the time I read this book (and the Manifestos of Surrealism, Rimbaud for the first time, Baudelaire, etc etc), I felt as if I didn’t know anybody who hadn’t. Which I think, is part of why I love it so much. I didn’t read it for “my studies,” yet it changed my writing nonetheless. I’m awful at making time to read stuff for total pleasure, for a fun afternoon on the couch, I think this is art school’s fault. My fault for thinking it is art school’s fault, though I love art school. The novel is a little absurd, a little romantic, a little tragic, very funny and unconcerned with traditional narrative. Nadja is a woman, this frustrating and romantic surrealist idea that Breton chases around for ~200 pages. Sometimes literally. It is thrilling.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

I was on Wikipedia reading about Andre Breton. Then I drove to Amherst Books and bought it, took it home and read it twice, cover to cover, in one sitting. This was all in Western Massachusetts.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

It totally troubled (still troubles, thank god) my sense of the world, my sense of freedom in writing. It makes me want to listen more closely when someone is talking to me. It also helps me work on my secret-novel which is a secret most days even to me. The prose is often so unwieldy and sprawling and erratic. It makes me want to think more associatively.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

“Everything that permits us to live another’s life without ever desiring to obtain more from him than he gives, so that it is quite enough to see him move or be still, speak or be silent, wake or sleep, no longer existed for me, had never existed: this was only too certain.”

Depending on the day, this sentence (sentiment) is alternatingly wonderful or cripplingly sad.

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I think I’m going to send it to Brian Foley. I think he’ll like it because it says interesting and sometimes-radical things about art, freedom, love, and “purpose.” With a little luck maybe he’ll come sit on my porch and talk about these things with me. Brian, I’m sending you a book.

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Bio: Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013), and two chapbooks: The Hero Poems (H_NGM_N) and I Was Not Even Born (Coconut Books). Recent poems have appeared (or will appear) in The Best American Poetry, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Western Massachusetts.

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