Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Play's the Thing

Monday I went to Ford's Theatre in D.C. to hear a talk by local playwright Ken Ludwig. Author of popular stage farces like Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo, Ludwig was there to speak about his newest play Leading Ladies, now running at Ford's. While I wouldn't call him America's greatest living playwright or anything, he's good at a style of cornball, slightly over the top farces that are generally pretty fun.

Much of the talk focused on the current play, where his inspiration came from, what he tries to do with all his plays, etc, etc. But someone finally asked something that made my ears perk up a little. They asked, quite simply, how and when he decided to write plays over any other form of literature (the below is a paraphrase, not a quote).

My brother's only a few years older than me. We were raised by the same parents and in the same town. But for some reason he has no interest in anything. My interest in writing really comes from a love of the theatre. Like most people, I first got involved in high school in the obvious way of acting. But the more involved in got in theatre, the more I learned about and appreciated the other crafts that go into theatre: set design, lighting, technical crews, directing, costumes, and of course writing. As I got older, realized that's where my talent is. Writing is my way to participate in what I love the most; theatre.

It's a lovely sentiment, and probably why I'll never write a play. My fond memories as a kid are not of theatre, but of sitting in libraries, the back seats of hot cars in the summer, or curled up under a blanket reading to myself. It was, and still is, one of the great pleasures in my life. Hopefully I'll be able to contribute to people's reading pleasure as much as Ludwig has to people's theatre pleaure. Dare to dream, I guess.

My posting will probably be sporadic the next several days; I have a few non-blog writing projects coming due and need to get cracking on them. I'll get a few up here and there, though.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Thanks, But No Thanks

As you may or may not know, along with the National Book Festival on the National Mall in downtown D.C. tomorrow, there's also a major protest/rally against the Iraq War scheduled. I've been wondering ever since I heard about it if the two would overlap or even clash in some ways, and it looks like it's started. For some perspective, the various protest rallies appearing on the White House ellipse and near the Washington Monument are about a ten minute walk from the Book Festival on the National Mall.

This article at The Nation reprints a letter poet Sharon Olds sent to the first lady, Laura Bush. For those too lazy to click the link and read the whole letter, it essentially details Olds' internal struggle in loving the idea of participating in the National Book Festival, but not being able to justify attending it and the related dinners when she feels so against the war in Iraq. She closes with:

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

I understand her feelings, but it is a shame Olds can't put aside her political feelings for what's really a pretty good cause. Aside from promoting writing and reading in general, the fair hosts a lot of kid's programs and it's one of the few places to see so, so many children excited about books. But frankly, I'm suprised we haven't heard more of this. I respect Olds' choice, even if I wouldn't have done the same thing under the same circumstances. My plan consists of going back and forth between the two events throughout the day.

Special thanks to Jen at JMWW for sending us this story.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

What's Lady Churchill Got On Her Wrist?

Printed in a low-cost zine-style, lit mags like Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #16 are probably often passed over by people in shops. The cover’s a simple, 2 color thing with a cartoony set of illustrations. Inside, the type is small and running down two columns with narrow margins. If a piece ends mid-way down the page another one, even if it’s by a different author, starts right up. Well, I’m here to tell you that at $5 a copy, it’s well worth picking up if you’re lucky enough to run across it. I freely confess that I picked it up a few weeks ago because

a) it’s cheap
b) Kelly Link has connections to it
c) it’s cheap

Because of Link’s connection to LCRW (I think she’s edited for them before, but she’s listed now as “outtern”) I expected it to be a mag focused on fantasy and s/f stories. Character driven fantasy and s/f, but still coming out of those genres nonetheless. While some pieces do contain small fantastical elements these are primarily mainstream pieces, but very quirky ones. The full length stories feel like something that might appear in Conjunctions, although without a lot of the postmodern baggage. Likewise, the short-shorts remind me of the odd material you find on McSweeney’s Online, although these are better crafted than most of those at McSweeney's.

Eric Gregory’s “You and I in the Year 2012” is a great example of what I mean. It’s a first person narrative about Jeff, a man trapped within the general malaise and boredom of his own life. He’s not depressed exactly; just a bit dissatisfied with his current existence. One day he receives an unsigned letter in his mailbox claiming all life on earth will end in the year 2012 when a giant asteroid strikes the planet. With connections to the Mayan calendar and other goofy conspiracy theory plots, this is all treated in a light, farcical manner. While Jeff only half believes the letter, it works as in impetus, pushing him to examine his life. I won’t give away the ending, who the letter came from is a big mystery that would be evil of me to reveal, but I will tell you that Jeff makes some changes in his life and leads us to an ending that connects wonderfully to the rest of the text.

The other piece I really enjoyed is the least fantastical. Sean Melican’s “Gears Grind Down” is a fabulous portrait of Henry Vick, a simple farm man with an incredible gift for all things mechanical. His gift lands him an appointment to the big city college, and while he’s hesitant to attend, he goes to satisfy his mother. He finds himself overwhelmed, both by living in the confusing big city and by the content of the classes. His academic abilities aren’t the best, but he struggles through and improves as the story develops. Isolated because of his differences from the other students, Henry finds solace within a non-working clock tower on the college campus. He sets out to repair the giant timepiece, and Melican’s writing of these scenes is downright magical. My only complaint about the piece is that it was difficult to nail down the setting. I wasn't clued in right away that the tale is set in pre-industrial times, and even now I'm not sure exactly when or where it took place. But this is a small complaint. Thoughtful and subtle, Melican's created a simple story that’s quite memorable.

Highly recommended, this little zine packs it in tight with a number of wonderful, professionally-wrought stories. I may even be adding this to my subscription list.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


This article on Bookcrossing is pretty interesting, at least for book whores like myself. If you're not aware of the practice, the website defines bookcrossing as the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

While not a new practice by any means, the website gives you the added pleasure of tracking the books you scatter to the winds. You register it on the site, affix the tracking number, and people who find it can add to the book's history. You can then see everywhere your book travels. If you're looking for a book you can also use the site to hunt down books in your area.

Kind of a world-wide library of sorts, with the randomness of it all giving it kind of a Borgesian or Pynchonian feel. I've never done one myself, but I've found a couple in the D.C. area. One that started out in Seattle, and another with origins in Italy. Maybe I'll do one and post results (if any) here. I've been selling some of my books lately on ebay, sometimes at a loss, to give them new life. But this is more appealing since you get more of a sense of it living on and more people enjoying it. I just need to pick a worthy book, a book that Josephina Barrista at the local coffee house won't toss out with the trash.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ice Cream Headache

Ok, there is now, officially, way too much going on in the DC-Baltimore region this weekend. Just received the following through the experimental music listserv I'm on:

The Baltimiore High Zero Festival
Thursday, Sept. 22nd to Sunday, Sept. 25th at
The Theater Project 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, Maryland

Showtimes: Thursday-Sunday 8:30-midnight
Saturday matinee show, 1-4PM

Admission: Individual concert: $10
Festival pass: $35

Sound installations, workshops, and site-specific performances begin
Sept 15th all around town!

For a full schedule see:
Tickets can be purchased over the phone:410-752-8558

Baltimore's HIGH ZERO Festival is one of the largest and most radical festivals of improvised music in the country, bringing together an amazing group of players each year for all-new collarboations, united united in their wil-to-experiment and desire to cross boundaries into the unknown. Ranging across the territories of jazz, sound art, electronic music, noise, contemporary composition and mad scientism (at least), the festival is flavored by the visionary imagination and noncomformost sensibility of Baltimore's vital and unusual experimental scene, incorporating many levels of possibilities simultaneous: freely improvised concerts, site specific performances, sound installations, and workshops throughout the city.

I've been once before, and it really is one of the true gems of the Baltimore art scene. If you have any interest in experimental and/or improv music, and you can squeeze it in between exhibits at the Baltimore Book Fair, the National Book Fair, and the Small Press Expo, I highly suggest going. A number of performers are local to the region, so it's also a rare chance to support a lot of local musicians.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Count Gore's Grand Return

This post is mostly for anyone who grew up in the D.C. area. Online horror host Count Gore De Vol hosted an online chat today, courtesy of the Washington Post. He spins some great anecdotes about his time as the Count, Captain 20, and Bozo and shares some wisdom on horror movies. If the WP asks for a login and you don't have one, try Bugmenot. Both Miss L and I posted; see if you can guess which questions are ours.

For those who didn't grow up in D.C. during the late 70's and early 80's, Dick Dyszel was a local television host on WDCA 20, what is now the UPN station for the area. He hosted a kids program called W.O.W. as Captain 20, and late night horror movies as Count Gore. Hosts at one point in time were a vital component of local stations, and he was a damn good one. A few years ago, he started up his current website to play horror movies online, broadcasting material that slipped into the public domain. He now also has a site for Captain 20, mostly for historical purposes at this point.

Waking up to him, seeing him again in the afternoon when you got home from school, and sneaking downstairs to watch his shows late at night. It was kind of like having a crazy, fun uncle coming to visit you every day. If you didn't grow up watching his shows, it's hard to explain how much he was a part of the lives of all the kids in the area. This was pre-cable, so everyone...and I mean everyone....watched him.

Dyszel's moved back to the D.C. area, and will host the midnight movie, Young Frankenstein, Saturday night September 17 at the Landmark Theater in downtown D.C. Give him a warm welcome home if you go.


Dancing the Horrors Away

If issue 52 of Cemetery Dance exemplifies the horror field, a large number of the writers have a fascination with the twist ending. Personally, I'm not a big fan of it unless it's done extemely well. When done well, the twist should cause the reader to have one of those magical "A-ha!" moments, causing them to suddenly catch on to some of the clues the writer skillfully placed throughout the story. When done poorly, it can either remind me of Scooby Doo cartoons or just flat out irritate me. I'll use Tim Waggoner's story "Home Security" as an example of what I don't like. Not because its infringments are more significant than others in the issue, but because it's a short-short and easier to talk about here.

The starting premise is simple. Ray heard a noise in the middle of the night and gets up, knife gripped in his hand, and scours the dark corners of his home for an intruder. We've all had those moments when we thought we heard something and just have to check it out, and Waggoner does a very good job in laying out the physical space and playing with the tension. Lines like

Listening for a rustle of clothing, for a foot being uplifted and put back down, for the silent but unmistakable feel of air being disturbed as a body moved through it. (45)

I actually found to be quite lovely in a creepy sort of way. But after going through his home, Ray finally realizes that no intruder exists. We feel his relief with him, and then we get the ending:

He was glad the prowler had turned out to be nothing more than a phantom of his imagination. He had a job to do, one he'd put off far too long, and he didn't want to be interrupted. He raised the blade and brought it down on his wife. (45)

Well now. I was certainly taken aback by that, so if that was Waggoner's main goal I guess he succeeded. I've read the story four times now, searching for even the slightest hint that this was coming. But it's not there. Part of my frustration comes from the rest of Waggoner's story being done so well. I expected something more out of the ending, and when that didn't happen I felt like I had been tricked and cheated. Unfortunately, a good number of the pieces in this issue play with this style of ending. While I can see why some readers might like these, it's just not for me.

The stories I do like are the ones that don't try to trick you, my favorite being "How Far We All Fall From Grace" by Michelle Scalise. A plague of some sort has swept through the country, killing in numbers we can only guess at. Houses with people showing symptoms are quickly quarantined, and the quarantine itself is strictly enforced by an armed militia. Young Wendy lives in the midst of this with her family, most of whom believe the plague to be a punishment passed down from god. Early in the story, the family buries the grandmother and they are quickly placed under quarantine. Although most of her family accepts their fate, Wendy takes matters into her own hands and plans an escape. What is most horrifying about this tale is not graphic details dead bodies or disease, but how close our own society is to making moves like this when fear runs a community. Scalise's prose is right on target, and when the ending hits it challenges the reader to think what s/he would do under similarly extreme circumstances.

The other piece I really enjoyed was Joel Lane's "Among the Dead". David works a rather thankless job, under pretty horrible conditions considering it's office work. He sits in his anonymous cubicle, typing away on the computer, his productivity constantly under scrutiny. Lorraine, the woman in a cubicle near him, starts feeling ill. Perhaps its the lack of air conditioning, perhaps something else. She passes out, and isn't breathing when the ambulance takes her away. She dies shortly thereafter. David and the rest of the staff are given an early lunch, and when they return he finds Lorraine's space already filled with a temp. We then enter a mildly surreal section that connects well with the themes of the tale. Although a little over the top in its details, Lane effectively communicates that sense of dehumanization nearly everyone has felt when working for a job they don't enjoy. Perhaps my enjoyment is just a sign of my job loathing, like my earlier appreciation for Pick Your Poison.

The issue is entirely worth it for the reviews, though. CD prints a ton of them, and I found the range of what they cover pretty interesting. Pulpy-style horror books are no surprise, but they also gave a very favorable review to Robert Coover's Stepmother. A running theme through a lot of the reviews, though, criticized some books that focused too much on character to what they saw as the detriment of thrilling/chilling plots. Kind of the inverse to criticism one sees in mainstream lit reviews, so I found the perspective interesting.

I've been pointed by a few people online to some other horror mags that put out work a bit different from CD, some supposedly more driven by character and theme. I'll be curious to see how they compare.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Addiction

If my attitude towards books is any indication, I can never do crack. I just wouldn't be able to stop.

I went to the monthly magazine meeting last night to discuss what I reviewed over the past four weeks and pick out new stuff for the next round. I went in promising to control myself and not take too much. I have piles of older books to read, not to mention some lit mags both in print and online to catch up on. And I have at least one thing coming in the mail from Strange Horizons to review. I've also decided to take a stab at NanoWriMo this year, so I'm doing some prelim research for the novel...novella...whatever it ends up being, and need to set aside time for that.

So, what did I take?

Three graphic novels, all of which look promising, especially this one. The new TC Boyle collection, a bio on the remaining living astronaughts who've been on the moon, and an interesting looking dark fantasy by Cherie Priest.

Sometimes it feels like the more I read, the more I find to read.

Speaking of which, I'm really enjoying the Cory Doctorow book. I've never read him before, but his writing is kind of an odd marriage between Jonathan Carroll and early Neal Stephenson. Plus the references to Steel Pole Bathtub keep making me laugh.

I'm working up reviews for the last few things I've read, and those should start appearing over the next few days. Unless I get distracted, in which case all bets are off.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Heading Dead West

The edgy graphic novel Dead West, which wonderfully blends the tropes of the western cowboy tale with zombie horror stories, opens with a short prequel. A small Native American village is wiped out to make way for a town called Lazarus. Years later the lone Native American survivor returns and places a curse on the now bustling burg. The dead of the town rise from their graves and start attacking and snacking on the remaining inhabitants of Lazarus. Speed ahead one week and a stranger comes to town, an unnamed bounty hunter searching for a fugitive known only as the Fat Man. Caught in the midst of this horrifying event, the bounty hunter finds himself helping the trapped members of the town so he can reach and kill his target.

Spears’ story shows a skilled balance between heart-pounding action and quick little side moments that give the readers a chance to catch their breaths. The tale reaches its inevitably violent-yet-campy conclusion when the Calvary, quite literally, arrives by way of a division of civil war soldiers that wander into the scene with their guns and cannons blazing. Rob G’s artwork adds to the fast-paced plotting through a sketchy, frenetic and angular style. His depiction of violence works on a bone-splitting level that will satisfy horror fans, but toning down the gore just enough so it won't shock the average reader.

Fans of the Spears and G. team may be surprised by the lack of character development and deep themes that their previous project Teenagers From Mars provided so skillfully. Spears gives few clues to the identity of the bounty hunter and why he’s so intent on catching the Fat Man. But it’s well suited to this lone gunman style of western, making more than a few nods to Sergio Leone spaghetti western movies like Fist Full of Dollars as well as the cowboy anti-hero Jonah Hex of DC Comics. Besides, those looking for big themes in this book are probably missing the point; the book’s intent is one of pure fun and a thrilling source for guilty pleasures. Fans of zombies, westerns, and zombie-westerns (yes, they do exist...and in quite a level of abundance) will rejoice over this thrilling story, but DW probably won’t convert anyone normally opposed to either style. But as different as it is from their other works, DW points at a powerful collaboration between two creative minds that are heading towards a promising and diverse career.


Monday, September 12, 2005

Events for the Week

With the fall publishing season now in full swing, there's suddenly a lot to do as far as lit events in the area. Get off your duff and enjoy. Special Note: in the interest of brevity, I have not listed anything related to the Virginia Fall for the Book festival. I may or may not post separately about it, but I have added links to the right for area festivals if you're interested. Fall for the Book offers lots of panel discussions, readings, and lectures by both nationally recognized authors and local treaures. Read the events carefully on their web pages. Some events are on the campus of GMU, others at the Fairfax County Government Center. If going for any of the "big name" writers, go early.

If there are any other fests or events I should know about, email me. Happy to post them.

12 Monday

7 P.M. Blues legend B.B. King signs The B.B. King Treasures: Photos, Mementos & Music From B.B. King's Collection (compiled with Dick Waterman), being published on the occasion of his 80th birthday, at Borders-Downtown, 18th & L Sts. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-466-4999.

7 P.M. Acclaimed Web designer Hillman Curtis presents a lecture, "Making the Invisible Visible," and signs his new book Hillman Curtis on Creating Short Films for the Web at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. Admission is $20 for nonmembers; call 202-639-1703 for details and to RSVP.

7 P.M. Jewell Parker Rhodes reads from and signs her new Marie Laveau mystery, Voodoo Season, at Borders-Silver Spring, 8518 Fenton St., Silver Spring, Md. 301-585-0550.

13 Tuesday

6 P.M. Israeli writer Etgar Keret reads from the collection of short stories The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God. Ben and Esther Rosenbloom JCC, 3506 Gywnnbrook Ave, Owings Mills, Md. $12/person.

6:30 P.M. Tamara T. Gregory signs her new novel Passport Diaries at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, Md. 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

6:30 P.M. Writers Live at the Library Series. Ayana Byrd and Akiba Solomon read from and discuss their compliation of essays by and about women. Enoch Pratt Free Library, central library
400 Cathedral St., Baltimore, Md. 410-396-5430.

7 P.M. Terry Pratchett reads from and signs his newest Discworld novel, Thud!, at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227.

7 P.M. Kim Addonizio reads from and signs her new novel Little Beauties at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-737-5553.

7 P.M. Salman Rushdie reads from his new novel, Shalimar the Clown. This is a ticketed event at Temple Sinai, 3100 Military Rd. NW, Washington, D.C. Two tickets are free with book purchase; otherwise, they are $10 each. Also note that Mr. Rushdie will sign only Shalimar the Clown. Sponsored by Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC. 1-800-722-0790

7:30 P.M. The "New Voices" series, designed to introduce emerging poets to the community and honor mentoring poets, begins its fall season with readings by poet Rod Jellema and some of his students at Grace Church (Georgetown), 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Call 703-425-5583 for more details.

14 Wednesday

7 P.M. Robert Hicks reads from and signs his new novel The Widow of the South at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227.

7 P.M. Bret Easton Ellis reads from and signs his new novel Lunar Park at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 418 Seventh St. NW, 202-638-7610.

15 Thursday

6:30 P.M. Writer/cartoonist Frank Cho talks about comic books, creativity and censorship in the arts industry. Harford County Public Library, Abingdon Branch. 2510 Tollgate Rd, Beltsville, Md. 410-273-5601 x 222.

7:30 P.M. Poets Lia Purpura and Jonathan Vaile read from their work as part of the Café Muse series at the Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase, Md. An open reading (sign-up at 7 p.m.) concludes the program. Call 301-656-2797 or visit Word Works DC for details.

8 P.M. A Poetic Sit led by and featuring Ben Hogan. Notre' Maison, 18 W. 25th Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-235-4773.

16 Friday

7 P.M. Mick Foley "Scooter" Book Signing. Author and former professional wrestler Mick Foley will read and sign his new novel, Scooter. Borders Books and Music, 170 W. Ridgely Road, Lutherville, Md. 410-453-0727.

17 Saturday

5 P.M. Conceptual artist damali ayo discusses and signs her new book How to Rent a Negro at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 301-559-1140.

18 Sunday

1 P.M. The Riverdale House Museum hosts a reading by Regency Romance authors Kathryn Caskie, Kate Dolan, Janet Mullany, Diane Perkins, Mary Jo Putney and Lucia St. Clair Robson . Admission is $5, which includes a guided tour of the house and refreshments. The museum is located at 4811 Riverdale Rd. in Riverdale Park, Md. For details and to RSVP call 301-864-0420 .

1 P.M. Elizabeth Poliner reads from her new novel Mutual LIfe & Casualty as part of the DC Arts on Foot Program. Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-737-5553.

2 P.M. Richard McCann reads from Mother of Sorrows, his collection of short stories published by Pantheon. He is joined by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, who will read from The Maverick Room. (Graywolf Press). $4.00 (Member), $6.00 (Non-Member) Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, Md. 301 654-8664.

2 PM Garrison Keillor: Good Poems for Hard Times, Lecture and Book Signing. Garrison Keillor brings his humor and eloquence to some of his favorite poems by poets from Raymond Carver to Emily Dickinson to Charles Simic. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program. Location: Lisner Aud., GW University, 730 21st St. N.W, Washington, D.C..$24, general; $18, members; call 202-357-3030 for more info.

4 P.M. 3rd Sunday Poetry Series. Poetry by Clarina Harriss and Yvette Neiser. An open mic follows. Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th St., Baltimore, Md. 410-732-4258

4 P.M. D.C. Poets Against the War presents a reading by Carolyne Wright , author of Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire, at Busboys & Poets, 1390 V St. NW. Call 202-387-POET or visit Bus Boys and Poets.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Those Artist's-Artists

Radio Program Studio 360 is running a very interesting program this week on "Artist's Artists", meaning artists that may not be widely known but that people in the biz may admire greatly. Among others, they talk about coreographer Merce Cunningham, composer Pauline Oliveros, and author/playwright Samuel Beckett. My top ten "writer's writers" I constantly return to (not in any particular order):

1. Andre Breton (mainly for Earthlight)
2. Kathy Acker
3. Doug Rice
4. Christian Bök
5. Philip K. Dick (so utlra-trendy now, but I still love his ideas)
6. Marcel Schwob
7. Lance Olsen
8. Samuel Delany
9. George Bataille
10. Paul Bowles

Strangely, mostly people I would consider "stylists", which I'm really not except on those rare moments when I get hit with a fun structural idea. I'm sure I'd pick a different set on a different day, but there you have it.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Attention All Superman Haters

Super Dickery retools covers and strips of various Superman comics, redoing them to make the Big Blue Cheese (yes, that was actually one of his nicknames) look like a complete and total dick.

Can't help but think of the Donald Barthelme (do people still remember Don B?) story that satirized Batman. Instead of a useful batch of crime-catching gadgets, the Batmobile is outfitted with a mini-bar. Funny as a one-time read as I remember it.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Special Benefit Reading

Commemoration, Compassion & Community:
A Day-long Fundraiser for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina
Poetry, Music, Film, Theatre, Food

Sunday, September 11, 2005, 9 AM to 11 PM
Busboys & Poets
14th & V, NW, Washington DC
U Street/Cardozo Green line Metro

Americans gave generously to the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Let's honor that spirit of giving with a day of fundraising for the Americans whose lives have been shattered by Hurricane Katrina. Funds collected, as well as a portion of proceeds from restaurant and bookstore sales, will be donated to the People's Hurricane Fund/Young People's Project and the Southern Relief Fund of the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, organizations led by and working directly with low-income communities of color in the effected areas.

All are invited to bring a poem to read - one of your own or any poem that speaks to you in these difficult times. The organizers will also have poems available to choose from, if you like.

Hosted by Busboys & Poets, cosponsored by D.C. Poets Against the War, CodePink, Teaching for Change, and The Fund for Women Artists.

Highlights of the day, to date (more details to follow):

10 AM - Anu Yadav will perform excerpts from her one-woman show in progress, Capers, about residents displaced from the Arthur Cappers public housing development in SE Washington.

10:45 AM - Camille Dungy, reading her own poetry and the poems of Sterling Brown, D.C.'s first Poet Laureate.

11 AM - Kathryn Blume will perform excerpts from her acclaimed show The Accidental Activist, chronicling her launch into anti-war activism when she founded the Lysistrata Project. Kathy's first DC appearance!

12:30 PM - Shahid Buttar, Guerilla Poet, Organizer, Lawyer.

1 PM - Conscious Hip Hop by Princesss of Controversy - Activist, Artist, Diva.

3 PM - Poetry by Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Naomi Ayala, Laurie Blair, Kyle Dargan, Esther Iverem, Reuben Jackson, Judith McCombs, Jennifer Steele, Kathi Wolfe, Andrea Wyatt, and others.

7 PM - Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, and the Selling of the American Empire, a film narrated by Julian Bond. Examines how a radical fringe of the Republican Party used the trauma of the 9/11 terror attacks to advance a pre-existing agenda to radically transform American foreign policy while rolling back civil liberties and social programs at home.

9 PM - Jazz by The Sanga Equation, a straight-up standard jazz quartet with repetoire spanning the whole of jazz history--from Thelonnious Monk to Stevie Wonder. Members: John Paul, piano; Jamal Borden, bass; Steve Helfand, drums; Lena Seikaly, vocals.

For more information: Pamela Pinnock, Busboys & Poets,, 202-528-4987 or Sarah Browning, DC Poets Against the War,, 202-545-7959.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Get Outta Here, You Darn Beatnik!

It's pretty well known that novelist and poet Jack Kerouac received an honorable discharge from the military, but the specific reasons are usually made pretty vague in most of the bios on him. The website Smoking Gun has managed to unearth the medical reports detailing precisely why he got the boot in the ass. He went in to see doctors repeatedly for headaches, and was officially discharged for something called "Dementia Praecox", a kind of catch-all psychological diagnosis we might call Schizophrenia today. But the reports don't stop there. They also detail his, umm, solo sexual exploits, dreams of writing, drinking problems, troubles with women, and an extreme problem with responsibility. Not all that surprising to me after reading portions of his published journals last year, but the medical reports create an odd but very fascinating little portrait of one of the great American writers.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Two Reviews For the Price of One

I took part in a reading once a couple of years ago, and introduced things by saying something like this:

Thank you all for coming tonight. I think I can speak freely for all my fellow readers by saying that we're glad you're hear, listening to us. Writing is about communication, and without an audience or a reader there is no communication. You are, in your own way, as much participants as those of us at the podium.

I still believe that. Any jerk can scribble away on a pad of paper or in a journal, but to take that next step and present your words effectively to a reader is a whole other thing. But lately I've started modifying my idea of what an audience is. Mainly that sometimes you can be the right audience for something, and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can't.

I recently struggled with reading Jonathan Coe's The Closed Circle for a couple of weeks. It is a well written thing, probably far better than anything I'll write. The characters are well developed (although I found them somewhat uninteresting), and I marked more than a few lines throughout the text that I'll photocopy and paste in my journal. A low-level politician falls in love for his young, smart and attractive media advisor and the whole thing sits on the verge of scandal throughout the novel. There's also a leftist newspaper editor married to a rich woman who struggles with his political identity, and a frustrated novelists trying to find his way through love and life. A large part of the novel revolves around current British politics, which I am only marginally interested in. And perhaps also why I didn't find any of it funny despite all the blurbs on the cover calling it a comic gem, etc, etc.

And then along came Pick Your Poison #4.

I've never read this little zine before. I ran across it a couple of weeks ago at Atomic Books in Baltimore, laughed at the xeroxed pulp-inspired collage artwork on the cover and figured it was probably at least worth the $2 Atomic wanted for it. Back in undergrad I bought weird little zines all the time from a little store in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia called Hole in the Wall Books. It was a tiny place with loads and loads of porn and was the head shop most convenient to campus. They would often have a small rack of zines and magazines, most of which were xeroxed and not officially printed, and many covered things like witch craft, sex, punk rock, sex, science fiction, and sex. Most were pretty crappy, but sometimes I'd find a real gem like Pick Your Poison.

This particular issue is a short 64 pages, and covers the author Nate's "professional" life after high school. After selling food at a gas station convenience store for a time, he moves on to temping at odd places like ice cream factories, law offices, and a switchboard for Pillsbury. The zine documents a constant battle of finding a job he can live with while still maintaining his preferred lifestyle of staying up late, hanging out, drinking, and smoking pot. Each chapter covers different aspects of his various jobs, and there's an underlying mixture of anger and amusement at all the corporate b.s. one encounters at any job (morale meetings, strange rules, office politics). Anyone who's felt themselves stuck in that dead-end job that they abhor will find a comrade in Nate.

All first person, the zine is a straight, mostly internal narrative without a lot of action and no dialogue. By and large, the writing isn't as accomplished as Coe's. Yet, somehow, it works for me. Perhaps because of observations that seem very true and funny, like this:

Three other people worked there. Two of them were girls in their early twenties. The third was a 65 year old woman named Marilyn who had been fielding calls for the company for 43 years. Goddamn, I thought-- she had been saying, "Pillsbury. One moment" for over twice as long as I had been alive.....It, but to each their own--whatever makes you happy.

It's a thought I've had myself in just about every crappy job I've ever worked. And there have been many. Which is probably why it connects with me more than the British-poltico stylings of Jonathan Coe. I'm just not the right audience for Coe, but, god help me, Pick Your Poison seems perfect for me. Go figure.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fence Gets Racy

I hadn't gotten the new issue of Fence in the mail yet, so I just checked their website to see when/if it's popping out. If you follow the link, you'll see there's a lot popping out on the cover. Editor Rebecca Wolff jokingly defends the cover in her editorial by citing poor mag sales with previous covers that are more artistic. I'm hoping the issue is a little tongue-in-cheek as well, because sometimes they can get a little dry. I do wonder, though, in this age of growing FCC power and more people so easily offended if some people will refuse to buy the issue because of the "graphic nature" of the cover.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. Nothing wrong with a little T&A along with your art and literature. I just hope it comes to me in a plain brown wrapper instead of the usual clear plastic wrap.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Events for the Week

5 Monday

All Day Politics and Prose is donating all profits for their sales today towards the Red Cross. 5015 Connecticut Ave, N.W. Washington, D.C. 202-364-1919

6 Tuesday

7 P.M. The Washington Literary Salon series debuts with readings by poets Frannie Lindsay, author of Where She Always Was (winner of the 2004 May Swenson Poetry Award), and Dana Roeser, author of Beautiful Motion (winner of the 2004 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize), at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-737-5553.

7 Wednesday

7 P.M. Adam Langer reads from and signs his new novel, The Washington Story, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-364-1919.

8 Thursday

7 P.M. Michael Kimmelman , chief art critic for the New York Times, discusses and signs The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C. Admission is $20 for nonmembers; call 202-639-1703 for details and to RSVP.

7:30 P.M. The Nora School Poetry Reading Series opens its sixth season with readings by Karren Alenier, Christopher Conlon, Robert L. Giron, Peter Klappert, E. Ethelbert Miller and Gregg Shapiro , all contributors to the anthology Poetic Voices Without Borders (ed. by Robert L. Giron), at the Nora School, 955 Sligo Ave., Silver Spring, Md. 301-495-6672.

9 Friday

8 P.M. The new season of PEN/Faulkner readings begins with Bebe Moore Campbell, author of the new novel 72 Hour Hold, presenting the annual William Faulkner Birthday Reading at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol St. SE, Washington, D.C. A reception and signing follow. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling 202-544-7077 or by visiting online .

10 Saturday

12:00 PM - 3:00 PM Open House: visit the Writer's Center and meet with workshop leaders, staff and Board members at our fall open house. We'll have light refreshments, and a raffle with several doorprizes, including a free workshop, membership and subscription to Poet Lore, our literary journal. 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD. 301 654-8664.

2:30 P.M. Jeff Alt, activist and hiking commentator for ESPN's "Inside America's National Parks," discusses and signs his new book, A Hike for Mike: An Uplifting Adventure Across the Sierra Nevada for Depression Awareness, after leading a hike to Capitol Hill in support of suicide prevention awareness, at Barnes & Noble-Metro Center, 555 12th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-347-0176.

4 P.M. Jeff Bagato discusses and signs Mondo DC: An Insider's Guide to Washington, DC's Most Unusual Tourist Attractions at Candida's World of Books, 1541 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-667-4811.

5 P.M. K'wan signs his new novel, Hoodlum, at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, Bowie, MD. 301-352-4110.

11 Sunday

3:30 P.M. TransAfrica Forum's Writers' Corner and Readers' Corner series present a reading by Dominican author Nelly Rosario from her novel Song of the Water Saints at 1426 21st St. NW, Washington, D.C. There is a $5 suggested donation; for details and to RSVP, call 202-223-1960, ext. 132, or e-mail .

6 P.M. The Iota Poetry Series celebrates its 11th anniversary with a release party for its new live CD featuring 40 Washington-area poets reading from their work, recorded at last year's 10th anniversary festivities, at the Iota Club Café, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. Poets scheduled to read include Grace Cavalieri, Patricia Gray, Reuben Jackson, Hiram Larew, Lyn Lifshin, Rose Solari and Jonathan Vaile . There will be no open reading. Call 703-522-8340 for details.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Whole New Medium to Conquer

Are you a frustrated writer? Have magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic stopped communicating with you, even through their automated responses? Do editors for small, photocopied zines and online ezines send you hate mail and death threats every time you shoot off another submission to them?

Scottish author Paul Story took matters into his own hands by distributing his novel Tom Corven, chapter by chapter, via podcast. As a form of self-publishing it makes sense. Without the costs of printing or even a webserver, he uploads the audio file making it easy an audience of millions to find his writing. Read the full story here.

Fairly recently Ron McLarty's novel The Memory of Running was first sold as an audio-only book. Stephen King loved it, promoted it, and it's now in print and selling at an admirable level. Whether or not the same thing will happen to Paul Story's novel remains to be seen. But I am curious to see if more people will start publishing solely through podcast. It could be an interesting market, particularly if you're good at reading your own material. Only time will tell.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cool Off WIth Ice Haven

You know right away that Ice Haven won’t be a standard comic when the opening strip features a man named Harry Naybors: Comic Book Expert, wearing nothing but tighty-whity underwear, pontificating on the place of comics within society while he performs his morning urination and fixes himself a bowl of cold cereal. But deviating from the norm is part of Daniel Clowe’s cartooning career.

Previously published in the independent comic series Eight Ball, Clowes’ newest book is a darkly comic romp through the small Midwestern town of Ice Haven. The basic story is pretty straightforward. A sad, quiet little boy named David Goldberg vanishes without a trace. But instead of delivering a pulp-inspired detective story David’s tale works mostly as a backdrop for the town. Clowes’s real interest lies in the lives of the bizarre but still all-too-real townsfolk of Ice Haven. It’s inhabitants include people like Violet the lovesick teen, irritable private detective Mr. Ames, Ida Wentz the local poetry treasure, and Carmichael the schoolyard bully. Through little vignettes that jump perspective every few pages, we witness their lives as well as their own unique reactions to David’s disappearance.

As the point of view shifts, so does the artwork. When we see how David’s vanishing effects his fellow classmates at the elementary school, the visual language and rhythm of the panels takes on a style inspired by Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. But instead of the smart and sweet subjects Schultz made famous in his own daily strip, Clowes moves into satire with a bleakly funny schoolyard of young kids talking quite openly about sex, drugs and violence. Other vignettes pull from the styles of detective strips, teen romances, and even the Flintstones. Clowes doesn’t even spare his own style. Random Wilder, an aging, frustrated poet whose greatest enemy is his well published next door neighbor Ida Wentz, fits perfectly in that mold of disaffected characters Clowes is known for through his other works like Ghost World (Fantagraphic Books, 1997) and David Boring (Pantheon, 2002).

While well-read comic fans will get all the jokes, the constant references may frustrate some readers. If you’ve never read Matt Groening’s odd series Life in Hell, for example, some of the jokes in the Blue Bunny vignette just won’t make any sense. But Clowe’s skill with character and inventive use of satire leave plenty for newer readers to enjoy. The depth and breadth he achieves in a short 89 pages is amazing, making this one of my must-reads of the year.