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I Shot the Moon, Calamari Press, 6 / 39, BEAR STORIES

Click through for a review of BEAR STORIES, the sixth in my full-press review series of Calamari Press.


First, let’s get this out of the way: BEAR STORIES by J’Lyn Chapman is sold out from Calamari, and currently shows no copies left at SPD. Maybe Powell’s? In any case, I need to get that off my chest at the start of this review because this is a book I would tell you to buy, were it available.

J’Lyn Chapman’s BEAR STORIES is a deliciously sharp and manic chapbook. It rises and falls over its 36-pages, housing close to the same number of micro-fictions, and eats me as it unfolds. Chapman carries here a voice that defines and defies, is working to connect us to our animal-insides but in a non-linear and almost prophetic manner.

‘My mouth is full of rabbits. Their taste is dust and grass. The sensation is moths. Their skittish movement dissolves until I forget they are there entirely, making a warren of tongue and gums. I am a mother or a place. I am an event copulating and then some die. They are all sizes. Do you remember the meadow where they were fat and small and the grey ones made their way into our imagination?’

We become a bear and we separate from the bear. We learn about the bear and we are broken from and by the bear – its claws, its teeth, its tendencies. Chapman carefully crafts each section, each portion, so that even under the slight rain of these flash fictions I feel drenched in forest, coated in nature – I feel the back of the bear’s throat as I travel down it.

‘In the dark, a body is a pond. The night birds make hollow sounds, and then there is the sound of the mouth, pulled back, curled out. And so on. Fur catches the moon as it comes out barbed and dark. A vertical cut whines under the ribs, and the long grass keeps it from you’

And too, while we have been talking a bit recently about poetry v. prose (see the conversation here), Chapman’s BEAR STORIES is a great example of how prose can be poetic, how poetry can be prose, and how in the end, if the work is good and grinding and well-worded and beautiful, the label is irrelevant.

‘I saw something die slowly. O, specific world in a dense abstraction: honeybees and the eriastrum make a storm system. I saw something like cannibalism: a squirrel eat a sparrow. The grid and viscera in my breath pattern. I matched it to the sheen of your star stories. I had such rapacity. You know, charm. And I was held by its blaze. I wanted it to make a difference, that is, seduction’

BEAR STORIES is gone, but if you can find a copy, buy a copy – it is full of the most gorgeous momentum.


13 thoughts on “I Shot the Moon, Calamari Press, 6 / 39, BEAR STORIES

  1. I’m glad you’re still doing this series, J. A. Carry on!

    I haven’t read this book, but this stirs in me a familiar question: I’m very curious as to why artists of our generation (I’m assuming Chapman is Gen X/Y) are so obsessed with bears and deer and rabbits and wolves etc.

    Is it because we no longer have anything to do with nature? I tend to think of this as a neo-Romantic impulse at odds with itself, since nature’s disappeared (for the most part in the US of A).

    I’m from Pennsylvania which is mostly woods, but it was a huge event in my childhood to see a deer. I’ve seen a bear twice in nature. Never a wolf.

    And I’ve never seen a rabbit anywhere.

    1. Sorry for the delay, I wasn’t receiving emails on comments for a few weeks.

      Interesting point about the animal / nature in current lit – I might move this to its own post, see what people think…

      1. I’ve been meaning for a while now to write more about this—I’ve been sketching out a post related to it, but haven’t gotten around to finishing it.

        Two of my interests are Romanticism and Twee culture (80s through now). So I’d love to talk more about it/this/that. Them.

        1. that is exactly what I was thinking too – are new(ish) writers looking to take the romanticism of the past and then stretch its skin into the surreal (shane jones comes to mind) or otherwise break it, deconstruct it, show how it is both here and not, in our culture, today…


          1. For me, the question relates more to Nietzsche’s Apollonian/Dionysian distinction. I think we live in very Apollonian times, and have ever since the 1980s. And we also live in very neo-Romantic times—some kind of late Romanticism, that’s lingered or returned after some time, even though nature has disappeared. Resulting in a kind of hyper-intellectual, urban Romanticism that’s deprived of nature. (Nature having been replaced by media spectacle, I suppose. Or celebrity, or fantasy.)

            That’s what I think Twee is, and a lot of other hipster art to boot: a longing for nature and transcendence, stunted by an over-intellectual distrust of the physical and the irrational.

              1. I’m afraid I don’t know Zachary German.

                Yeah, I think the animals in Lin’s work fit into this whole milieu. Which isn’t to say that’s all they are, but Lin’s work fits a certain stereotype. It exhibits strong Twee-ness. (This is not to say anything evaluative about Lin’s writing.)

                Animals are so very in these days. When I walk through Wicker Park, for instance, and go to Quimby’s, there are just animals everywhere. And yet they’re not real animals. They’re fine-line drawings of animals: wolves and deer and squirrels and rabbits, etc. On t-shirts and book covers and magazine covers and tote bags.

                And me being me, I wonder why. And then I start wondering why I myself often write about animals. Where does that impulse come from? How much is the culture writing through me? Whenever I see something being done a lot, I feel a very strong urge to call attention to it, and to interrogate it. I don’t mean that people shouldn’t do it—people should do whatever they want. But I prefer for there to be awareness of it, and discussion. I have a real aversion to trends being passed over, without comment.

                Probably because I’m something of a crank. Of course it’s tough to talk critically about trends, because then people often assume you’re attacking what they do, and therefore them. But I don’t mean it that way. I’m just curious as to why so many people are often doing X. (Making music videos that look like school plays, for instance. Or dressing up like sports teams.)

                1. funny, I was having a similar conversation recently with Matt Bell about writers using elements of sound in so many current texts – it is hard to let those kinds of unintended trends go by without at least discussing them in some casual way…

                    1. sounds represented as text – Shane Jones has a bunch in THE FAILURE SIX, Matt is using them in several recent texts, and I was at the time finishing a piece called ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

                      and maybe it goes back to Lin here too, EEE EE EEEEE – the sounds a dolphin makes – though I believe Matt contested that it was the same thing happening both Lin and Jones…

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