Don’t look now, but Issue 4 of The Alarmist, featuring my poem ‘X’, is now available for pre-order. Actually, do look! I’m biased, but if the preview is any indication this journal is stunning.
The sun barely resists
my seething force. It does demand entrance
into my guts, dissecting every last precious
illusion & smearing dry mud across the stained glass
walls of my too-swift heart.
Wait — !
The stale air of a winter-trapped house
is now laughing at your heart’s
hidden crawlspaces & your sad poems
forgot to utter the safe word
we both agreed was necessary,
now your eyes are foaming with
The cock’s intuition is uncanny
in loving early evening the most.
Everything is getting sleepy.
I lie upside-down and wait
for it to drain out, feeling
like someone working systematically
through a room of frozen light bulbs
trying each one in turn.
Sometimes there’s no lesson
to be learned. I open a spam email
that informs me: National wound care is interested in you!
We’ll gather at the bright house
select bombs from the menu and swallow
them whole. They click and shudder,
promise illumination and momentum
wait for us to make the first move.
The water of my inner ear becomes
fetid and clogged with music and whispers.
I hum, full of yellowjackets
spinning faster and faster.
Happy to share that ‘Dog Years’, a new story by Mark Brazaitis has been published today on Paragraphiti!
I’ve been after this incredible chapbook for years, ever since Jeff Clark and his wife (the very talented poet Christine Hume) came to speak and give readings at Notre Dame while I was an MFA student there. By pure chance, Jeff Clark’s ‘Music and Suicides’ had been, years and years earlier, the first book of poetry I ever bought. It was strange and lovely to me how this bit of happenstance had come full circle. I was happy to share this little story with Jeff as I had him sign my copy. I was even more happy to hear him read from ‘Ruins’ — he and his wife are both stunning readers, very different in their performative styles but genuine and moving.
I fell in love with ‘Ruins’ that night, and though Jeff had several copies on hand to sell (a bit ahead of actual publication, shh) I was sad and frustrated to be without the money to grab it up at the time. Luckily several copies from Turtle Point Press are still available and I grabbed one up quickly. Jeff’s reputation as a book designer is apparent in the physicality of it — one of the only hardback chapbooks I think I’ve ever seen — the poems bookended by stark black-and-white photos, and the chapbook also contains a translation of Louis Aragon’s poem ‘Poem to Cry in Ruins’.
The work here is genuine and incredible, sparse personal poems that are deeply charged with remembering and nostalgia, loneliness and anger. Nearly every poem is looking to the past with a refusal to let go and frustration with the self that keeps refusing. Memory is a constant pull throughout, centered often on a grotesque and sad father figure that the speaker dwells on heavily with a mix of contempt and longing that speaks to the hold that the father still has, despite the intensely unpleasant portrait offered.
This small book is dark and thunderous, ironically doing the most work in its more quiet moments, where the storms of the past and present both remain as echoes and ringing in the ears. There’s such raw and rigorous longing for connection in the present and lamentations of the broken past that every line stings and reaches out and goes numb and starts again. The cohesion of all these effects is haunting, and leaves a surprisingly large impact for such a small book. If you can still find a copy floating about, buy it immediately.
You eat well and transcribe
You shit quickly in the morning
You only slander in self-defense
You manufacture affection
You get up, shower, and check your messages
You network, correspond, advance
You write preening, disposable statements
You wash come off quickly
You drink bottled water and monitor headlines
You check your money and messages
In sorrow you’re seductive, in catastrophe a fascist
You think precisely what you’ve read
I will be honest and admit I wasn’t overly convinced of this novel right away; as a lover of William Gibson and Warren Ellis, the setting and premise felt a bit too familiar and overall the ground felt a bit well-tread. I knew right away I’d probably not be disappointed because this kind of gritty, noir speculative fiction is deeply in my wheelhouse, but I wasn’t sure it was going to live up to the expectations I had been building up for it for months.
In the end, I had really been swept up by this book, which manages to be more than the sum of its parts, which is not necessarily a knock on the parts. Adam Sternbergh has an obvious talent for pace and a heavily stylized narrative voice. The plot remains a bit well-worn, a heavy-drinking hitman anti-hero meandering about a dirty-bombed New York City full of shanty camp towns and the rich plugged into yet another flavor of a Matrix-like mass hallucinatory cyberspace bites off big on a strange job that only gets stranger. But Sternbergh is a fine storyteller and more than competently ushers along an engrossing tale. But the real strength here is in the frenetic tempo of the entire story, the way tension is elevated higher and higher and kept taut through the end.
The real danger of writing in a familiar genre is too easily falling into tired tropes and half-hearted style, and the book manages to mostly avoid it; the grit and noir are convincing and textured, rubbing the right away and making sure it burns. I really can’t commend enough Sternbergh’s risky approach to style, rapidly hammering one scene into the next with staccato, almost absurdly lean prose. The culminating effect feels like an action movie or graphic novel, with things getting hot early and never settling into any downtime.
I was happy to learn, as I suspected, that this isn’t a standalone debut but that at least one more ‘Spademan’ novel is in the works. I look forward to seeing how these characters and this refreshing approach to pace and structure bear out with more time. The world Sternbergh has created may not be as ultimately unique, but it’s an enjoyable nod to its predecessors and well worth spending your time in.
Very happy to share that ‘NAPALM’, a new poem by Joyelle McSweeney, is now live over at PARAGRAPHITI, including a video of Joyelle giving a reading of her piece. If you’ve never have the pleasure of hearing her read, now is the time.