- Cris Mazza, Shinobi Warrior
Cris Mazza, estimable polymath, trombonist, teacher, dog enthusiast, memoirist, novelist, and unparalleled master of the short story form, is also skilled in the martial arts, though this is not widely known. The training began when Mazza was an undergraduate, but accelerated significantly during her early adulthood, when she had reason, for a brief period to travel to the kingdom of Bhutan, in which nation certain Shinobi warriors from an earlier epoch had kept bright the flames of secrecy and bedazzlement over generations, maintaining a small elite training facility in Himalayan caves. Mazza’s instructor in the arcane Shinobi arts, whose name does not come down to us from the source material, was especially interested in nunchaku (ヌンチャク), and in the venerated ahimsa interpretation of nunchaku in which the one stick is breath and the other is the giver of breath. Mazza’s use of the nunchaku, according to this tradition, does not involve bodily harm in the foe, but rather stuns the foe into reflection, through the illusionary appearance of such unseemly amounts of force that any foe would come to know in a paroxysm that resistance is foolhardy. Mazza, though not of outsized physical stature, has adopted, with only minor alterations, the dazzling of ahimsa, and on one occasion used nunchaku in a dispute with a minor experimental writer, at a certain celebrated writing conference which was held that year in Chicago. During a tedious cocktail party, the experimental writer disparaged (in a fashion he believed witty) writing by women, and Mazza calmly exhumed the nunchaku from her attaché case, tore off her modest and unprepossessing pea coat, and dazzled the fuck out of the experimental writer, who retreated underneath a coffee table, after which he left the conference, that very night, claiming migraine, for his assistant professorship at Eastern Kentucky State, where he wrote a minor prose poem sequence entitled Ahimsa. Continue reading
Like a Dog by Tara Jepsen comes out today! It’s the story of a skateboarder, in her early thirties, struggling to have a relationship with her brother, who has an opiate addiction. It’s a grim, funny, raw, spectacular debut novel. We asked the author how she’s celebrating.
On the official day of Like a Dog’s publication I will rise at a generous 7:45, then immediately take my 75 mg of Venlafaxine. Will that guarantee a good mood? Probably not! I am still a person! I shall then feed my three cats, start a kettle for coffee, and look around for piles of cat barf. I will clean them up. I will not even be grossed out because I’ll be so glad that they are not dead rodents with their faces chewed off.
There is a pervasive mythology—or perhaps “oversimplification” is the appropriate term—of Black life in the United States, in which the South, understood to be the epicenter of American racism, is molasses slow in ideology, movement, and progress. On the other hand, the North (particularly its cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) represents upward mobility, progress, and freedom from the bondage that created African Americans. Of course, the history of both North and South is far more nuanced than that, and the current Black Lives Matter movement—which evolved following high-profile police killings in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland—provides contemporary evidence counter to this line of thinking. Continue reading
In his first book of… not poetry, Michael Robbins, author of Alien vs. Predator and The Second Sex, makes an extended argument about the connections between poetry and pop music.
A pop song is a popular song, one that some ideal “everybody” knows or could know. Its form lends itself to communal participation. Or, stronger, it depends upon the possibility of communal participation for its full effect.
Of course, being a poet, he’s cynical as hell. He says poetry is nothing more than a “sad and angry consolation.” Continue reading
Brian Eno told the Los Angeles Times in 1982, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground Record sold only 30,000 copies… I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” The same could be said of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, a slim collection of short stories that had the same effect on hundreds, if not thousands, of burgeoning writers.
I encountered Jesus’ Son at twenty, on break from college and wandering around a massive old bookstore. I saw that cover in the remainders section, bought it for $4.98, and promptly left it in the bag on my floor, only to discover it again, a couple of weeks later. I read it on breaks from my landscaping job (filthy, mulch-stained fingerprints litter the pages) and would go back to whacking weeds and edging beds with Johnson’s electric language pinging in my brain. I marked lines and passages I loved at that time with a stubby green pencil engraved with the name of a golf course I’d never been to, and bite marks in the wood that weren’t from my teeth: Continue reading
I’m an idiot. I know this. I was even more of an idiot back in college and I don’t like being reminded of this fact. So I admit I was hesitant when I picked up a copy of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot. I feared the narrator Selin and I had too much in common for us to ever get along. Like Selin, I’d fallen for a man via email while in college. Like her, I’d gone on to teach English in another country. Like her, I was trying (“doomed”) to be a writer. Unlike her, I didn’t go to Harvard. We were off to a shaky start.
I wasn’t entirely wrong. In some ways, following a year in the life of Selin was like reliving the prime of my idiocy, the crème de la crème of my naivety.
It’s strange how much I enjoyed it. Continue reading