j/j hastain’s Interview With Carolyn Zaikowski


j/j: Do you feel that there is benefit in working with apparitions and/or ghosts in your pages? If so, how do they benefit? If no, please fill me in on the narrative of what the “dead dream” in your new and exciting book: A Child is Being Killed.

CZ: Ghosts to me are secular and I believe in them. They’re psychological shadows, dead events and people who literally stay. The stayed energy of things past, a person who died or left whose energy is still imprinted in your nervous system, a trauma or tragedy you haven’t been able to “integrate” into what you conceive of as your current living reality/story, so it comes up repetitively in memories, dreams, art, conversations. Ghosts are presenting themselves to be understood and witnessed. I find it useful in that sense to work with ghosts in narrative. To see where they might fit, to make room and try to bring them out of shadows, so we don’t have to feel the torture and confusion of their semi-existence. Perhaps all a ghost needs is to be gently touched or held, or given a lamp of its own.  Continue reading


Creative Engagement with Hugh Behm-Steinberg and Mary Behm-Steinberg’s The Opposite of Work (Jackleg Press, 2013)

17443853A review in two.

It is not really diptych (not the result of hinged oppositions) when a conductor conducts in two-two time. The baton swings back and forth but not between two of anything: instead it swivels in an ongoing overlap. For this reason the back and forth of a baton (when in two-two) is more like conducting the candors of a smear. Please excuse (enjoy) an inherent back and forth shape as you move through my engagement with this marvelously pleasure-filled book.

A child (“beautiful[ly] unbearable body”) emerges from the curled spinal column of an ancient reptile which itself is protruding from the green of an old growth tree. Is green always mythological? A compendium of chlorophyll-like ducts keeps us in myth. “What was unknown/ becomes patterned” as the pages flip. Continue reading

Creative Engagement with Kristen Stone’s Domestication Handbook (Rogue Factorial, 2012)


Domestication is defined as the process (either unconscious or methodical) by which certain groups of animals are altered (due to control over them for many generations) at the genetic level in order to amplify aspects of their traits that appeal to humans. For anyone who has an impassioned relationship to wildness, who longs to cut the bars of the aviary in the middle of the day while everyone is watching or who imagines running a Mack Truck into Chic -fill-A (can you believe how homophobic they are?), the fact that Kristen Stone’s Domestication Handbook is not obviously demonizing domestication (admitting at one point in the book that it loves the suburbs, feels things for them) as much as it is admitting itself as domesticated, as captive animal (“domestication is the conversion of wild things into things that sleep in the bed”), is quite fascinating. With the bloody clot-like meat chunks on its cover, and the title relating to domestication I have to admit that what I expected from Stone’s book (a version of: “Look here, I am pissed that I have been domesticated” or “fuck you for domesticating me”) and what I got (a version of: “This is what it feels like to be me and the me I am has been domesticated”) were two different things. There is no denial in this book. Still, if this was not going to be an activist statement urging its readers to advocate for unconditional mammal ferality, what would it be? Continue reading

Creative Engagement with Kari Larsen’s The Black Telephone (Unthinkable Creatures, 2012)


When I was young I played telephone too! The game is fun but also an enigma in regard to how the thing you started off saying in someone’s small yet eager ear is never what the person and the end of the line ends up hearing (if the channel between you and them is filled with the whispers of more than one other participant). In Larsen’s The Black Telephone there are many participants (some of which are): Anne Carson (“This terrible thing we’re witnessing now is / Not unique you know it happened before”), Laura Albert/ JT Leroy (“He was turned on sexually by the perversity and the abuse in the stories. So he started to turn our relationship into a sexual relationship”), Dori Laub (“The fear that fate will strike again is crucial to the memory of trauma”), Sylvia Plath (“The black telephone’s off at the root”) and the speaker (in this chap-length essay) ranting to and about their best friend (“I cried over something and so she cried”).

This book is the effort to both keep and learn to tell a highly personal secret (as rape always is: “I could say he raped me, and he raped me several times, but I do not care and what does doing say?” / “I am never more locked in with another than when we share a secret” / “What does a secret do when it does not really say anything?”) in a collective or shared space, in a burning tunnel of fervent listeners and speakers (“finding words and testimony that speaks to my secrets”).

An obscure effort to tell combines with the act of telling while that effort is being enacted here (“There is a lot of shame in the ordeal of telling”). The difference between a collective and a random group exists in the intention. Larsen intends as she “divulge[s] insofar as to retread the ordeal that telling can be.” It is a joy to hear the fractures of content (“I made her think about a fear she had of her father cutting her up and hiding her in the walls” / “In order to talk about something I have ignored so thoroughly that I have put myself in danger of damaging my health” / “I wrung out a drawing that went through the washer and, true to my defeatist impulse, cried all over it”) that slip toward us as we read and attempt to synthesize the ethics of telling (“I wanted to blur a boundary by divulging sensitive information”). Continue reading

Creative Engagement with Liz Latty’s Split (Unthinkable Creatures, 2012)


Latty’s little sweet ‘Unthinkable Creature’ begins with a simultaneous dedication to “my mother” and “the missing.” We are brought into this story on a mysterious cusp. We can gather who “my mother” might be in relation to Latty but “the missing” could mean Latty’s missing of mother or it could mean Latty’s mother is now missing. There are options here (as far as a compass goes). These options are exciting as we move through the text.

Often, in adoption scenarios (I was just listening to one version of this last night on a talk show on the radio!) the mother figure is the one who eventually understands the need to ride in on a white horse, cape flapping in the breeze to offer recompense to the child that they left. Latty states: “I knew my mother must have been longing for forgiveness so I went to find her.” What an intimate and intuitive chivalry to be the child as the one who instigates! We get the feeling that Latty has long imagined (sitting on the edge of the bed) mother in different scenarios, with different faces, so it is brave for Latty to reach out to “mother” in any form that hopes for intimacy returned.

In Split, there are many indications of pain, of the gaps that remain even in the effort to create connections. Speaking of Latty’s own stomach as “weak in character” and “masochistic” we get a hint by page four that Latty’s allergy to “love and milk” will continue to position Latty (and us by extension and proximity) in pain and struggle. When they get close enough to be staring into each other “face to face” Latty sees that mother is “repulsed” by Latty; Latty sees that fact as literal confirmation that “she must be my mother.” Continue reading

Creative Engagement with Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience (Black Goat/ Akashic Books, 2009)

Lately I have been obsessing over feminist reframes of historical events and fairy tales. Part of this obsession is rooted in a collaborative project I am currently working on (with Tod Thilleman) that reengages and readdresses Mary Magdalene and The Virgin Mary in a complex, single-book-gesture, but another part of this obsession has to do with the way that my dreams have been feeling to me lately: like intensive chronicles of entirely other realms wherein feminism is a strong, inborn state (no longer act as mechanism for alteration of the patriarchal faults of an existing realm). I am still unsure if in these dreams, I know such places as utopias.

When I found Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience (hereafter in this review referred to as TRA) I felt compelled in the shape of my own obsession. TRA is an addicting, troubling, shocking tell (that I read as a very nice counterpart or companion to Kim Vodicka’s Aesthethesia Balderdash (Trembling Pillow, 2012)). TRA is a confessional-tell-all as much as it is an engagement with fairy tales.

Within TRA, I did not find the usual role reversals (that often accompany feminist fairy tales). There seemed to me to be vigilant interaction with the pungent and unsettling figures (from Jesus (“Jesus was made of felt”/ “how I longed to lift his discarded body off the floor, years ago—even reduced to felt, base material, how I craved his skin and wounds” / “Jesus is to satisfy, but he doesn’t”) to a new-to-menstruating girl’s own father-rapist (“in the barn’s orange blush she is bending to milk the cow when her father takes her from behind” / “he put his hand over her mouth.” / “when he came he squeezed her ass, leaving and imprint of his fingers. In those moments, she never cried out” / “dip your wick three times in the same chick and forget it” / “he knows only that single spurt of semen, his explosion, but it is she who carries his wreckage”[] “how great the opening the penis enters”). Continue reading

Creative Engagement with Kim Vodicka’s Aesthesia Balderdash (Trembling Pillow, 2012)

Chock-full like Joyelle Mcsweeney’s Percussion Grenade or Roxanne Carter’s How I Taught My Dress to Act, Vodicka’s Aesthesia Balderdash feels to me like punk rock feels to me: part crass (“a dove beat the shit out of me” / “the groin, the only poetic bone in one’s body” / “smell my rag” / “taught out hearts to finger themselves”), part gothic yell (“the Mohawks are all angels” / “applying mascara to the third eye” / “I was in love once, and I’ve experienced gender dysphoria ever since” / “you focus and fuck us both”). There are a couple of things to say about this. First, I like punk rock. Second, I really really like punk rock. As a rude girl moving around and through the bluffing and trivia of this Balderdash I am covered, cloaked (where once I was naked), protected even, by these heretical sounds (“would you fall from the sky just to lick my wombs?” / “dear sirs: there will be beloved, and there will be bemused” / “only when your wings are clipped in defeat will she let you sleep” / “like a flock of fucking myself I was invited to identify with”). I am being swallowed up in this self-proclaiming “gay heart.”

It is as if Vodicka is articulating pictures not as pictures alone, but as pictures jolting and ramming into other pictures (“the coffee pot menstruates” / “I don’t want to forget remembering you”), words replacing words (“the rain is expected to porn soon” / “clit back in moments of extreme duress” / “I can hear her screaming from the insides of a bird”). There is certainly traffic within AB, but I experience this traffic as a jammy, feminist one. Who would not want to be in that kind of strange traffic? Feels to me like a moist and yeasty recipe for a revelation! Continue reading