Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2016!

Few exceptions aside, the most compelling, challenging, absorbing literary art is being produced by small presses and their respective writers. I asked a number of writers, editors, and publishers to send me a list of small press books to look out for in 2016. Below you’ll find my own list, which is informed by Kate Angus, John Cayley, Lauren Cerand, Samuel R. Delany, Rikki Ducornet, Andrew Ervin, Lily Hoang, Sean Lovelace, Scott McClanahan, Hubert O’Hearn, Jane Unrue, and Curtis White.

Below you’ll also find lists from Jeff Bursey, Tobias Carroll, Gabino Iglesias, Janice Lee, Dawn Raffel, Nick Francis Potter, John Reed, Adam Robinson, Michael Seidlinger, Terese Svoboda, Jason Teal, Angela Woodward, and Jacob Wren. All the abovementioned people are small press heroes and great writers in their own right. My thanks to all of them.

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Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012

Photo by Frank Di Piazza

It’s probably too easy a move to begin my very brief remarks about Gass’s use of architecture as a metaphor by trotting out the old horse of a quote about language being the house of Being, before flogging it to death once and for all; but it seems appropriate, nevertheless, to do so, especially when I think about Gass’s positing that the sentence is a container of consciousness. Actually, the quote from Heidegger is useful only when held in contrast with Gass’s ideas about language. Whereas Heidegger placed speech, that is, the continuum of speech, which includes talking, listening, and silence, at the center of his theory of language, Gass does not see writing as a mere supplement to speech. The continuum of writing includes four modes: persuasive, expository, expressive, and literary; and two hybrid modes: argumentative (a fusion of persuasive and expository) and critical (a fusion of expository and expressive) modes. Of these modes, it is the literary that receives the primary focus in Gass’s critical writing. And so, one might perhaps properly say that, for Gass, writing, or, rather, the sentence is the house of becoming. And what is it exactly that becomes in a sentence? For Gass, the sentence is a container of consciousness, a “verbal consciousness, of course, one built of symbols, not sensations; yet one of perceptions all the same: perceptions followed by thoughts like tracking hounds, and infused throughout by the energies of memory and desire, the moods emotions foster, and the reach, through imagery and other juxtapositions, of imagination…” (“The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”). Like any house, this container can take any number of forms:

[S]entences must be understood to contain all sorts of unused syntactical space; places that could be filled with more words, but, in any specific instance, aren’t…Sentences are like latticework, like fences, to be left open or prudently closed, their boards wide or narrow, pointy or level, the spaces between them, ditto….A sentence can sometimes give its reader such a strong sense of its overall character that it provokes a flight of fancy, a metaphorical description: it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope, a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel; it’s like a spiral stair. To me, for instance, Sir Thomas Browne’s triplet—“Grave stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oak.”—with its relentlessly stressed syllables (seven strong to one weak in the first row, seven to two in the second course, and six to one in the last) resembles a wall. I can even locate spots (the weak stresses) where its stones have crumbled. Families come to pieces the way the word does.

Yes, architecture is a theme running throughout William Gass’s oeuvre, not only in his critical work but in his fictions as well, particularly in The Tunnel, where tunnel-as-metaphor is used as the very structure from which the novel is built.

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Johannes Göransson’s “Pillars of Truth”


  1. I think of going to a performance by “Blackie,” an improvisational band, in the basement of the Speedboat Gallery in St Paul with a friend. There were more people in the band than in the audience. We sat on a flea-ridden couch. The many instruments made a ruckus and a man dressed up as a typical all-American boy in drag (baseball hat, preppy clothes) yelled “We’re in Spokane! We’re in Spokane” and filmed himself while writhing around on the ground. It was like watchng someone masturbating in a hotel room: I felt filthy with Art. Afterwards my friend and I got in the bathtub, as if to get rid of the filth. After a while I realized that the water had gotten cold because I saw my friend shivering, he had goose-skin. Art is like sperm, as Artaud realized a long time ago, in the greatest poetry for the 20th century: “Sperm is not urination but a being who always toward a being advances to toerrfy it with itself.” Or: “Not a fiction, this sperm, but war with torn-crowned cannons which churn their own grapeshot before churning the ONE entry.”# Sperm as a numbling quality. It makes your lips tickle if you kiss a girl who’s just given you head.
  1. (You can also find insights about sperm in horror movies such Hellraiser as well as Matthew Barney’s sperm-covered art.) (After all, Art is a house that wants to be haunted, as noted by the greatest poet of all, the Spinster of Amherst. And that is why there are so many bleeding idiots locked in its attics, so many scissors left by its telephones, so many birds without teeth in its orientalist exhibitions.)
  1. Art is often most affecting when it’s not admireable or tasteful. When it’s ridiculous. Right now my wife Joyelle is downstairs reading a Kurtz-monologoue into a tapeplayer while playing the Doors’ “This is the End” and watching napalm blossom out of the jungle (aka “the zone”). This fall Tarpaulin Sky is publishing her book Salamandrine: 8 Gothics, which will ruin all of American literature for at least 20 years. The term “prose poetry” will finally be retired.
  1. I think about this one-man play I saw on the lower east side some time in the late 90s. It was spoken by a guy who had been mistaken for Hitler by an underground Hitler-cult. I watched it in one of those basements beneath a storefront on the Lower Eastside. As he told the increasingly absurd and therefore true story of his abduction and consequent physical ordeals and pleasures, the ugly, middle-age man grew sweatier and sweatier. I thought he was going to have a stroke. A pig stroke. But he survived grotesquely and spetacularly. The walls were covered with newspapers and the air was stale. We didn’t survive. The cult didn’t survive. That man with his pig stroke had infected the entire velvet underground. Continue reading

Best of 2011, Part 2

Lots of great things happened in 2011 for Gary Amdahl, Donald Breckenridge, Tobias Carroll, Aaron Gilbreath, Johannes Göransson, Dylan Hicks, Christopher Higgs, Tim Horvath, Jamie Iredell, and David Peak.

Find Part One, here.

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Action, Yes; The Swedish Issue; and the Poetics of Compromise

Let us perform a search.  Let us research the online journal Action, Yes, edited by Johannes Göransson, Joyelle McSweeney, and our very own John Dermot Woods.

Google tells us in bright blue (then purple) letters that Action, Yes “may be compromised,” and, below, appears evidence of such “compromisation”: “Our drugshop has everything you need.  Buy online viagra Buy viagra cheap.”  Who, we may wonder, is actually talking?  Who presumes to tell us about what we desire?

“To compromise,” in common parlance, has a negative connotation.  To compromise means to “[w]eaken (a reputation or principle) by accepting standards that are lower than is desirable” (Merriam-Webster).  Something (a site, a body, a person) that is “compromised” is “[e]xposed to risk, danger, or discredit”; it is, alternately, something “[t]hat has been in contact with infectious disease” (OED).  For Google, a website that “may have been hacked or otherwise compromised” means that a “third party has taken control of the site without the owner’s permission.”  Cleary this is not a desideratum…or is it?

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Walt Whitman :: The Simpsons :: Necropastoral / Necrocoastal / Necrogeorgic

In a recent comment, John Domini remarked how Kafka is “a major marketing tool” in Prague (Kafka beer steins, Kafka underwear, etc.), which reminded me, in a U.S. context, of how Levi’s exploitatively enlisted Walt Whitman’s poem “O Pioneers” for their 2009 “Go Forth” ad campaign. The commercial is a laughably bad example of corporate propaganda that turns Whitmanian address into capitalist interpellation (I remember the commercial was loudly booed when it was shown before a screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces).

In an apparently non-ironic comment, YouTube user sapporo1992 says, “i seriously get so inspired when i see this. haha and i do kinda live a life like that full of adventure maybe thats why i relate to it so much…and i love walt whitman’s poetry.”

In contrast to the “inspiring” and “adventurous” Whitman (this is the Whitman of “Song of the Open Road”), the recent The Simpson’s episode “The Squirt and the Whale” (episode 460) presents us with the “comforting” and “compassionate” Whitman (this is the Whitman of “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night”).  In the episode, Lisa comforts a beached blue whale (she names her “Bluella”) by reading her a passage from Leaves of Grass.  She says to the whale, “When I’m sad I read something beautiful and true: poetry” and then reads aloud the first three lines of “The World below the Brine” (“The world below the brine; / Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves, / Sea-lettuce, vast lichens…”) before falling asleep beside the beast. When she awakes, she finds that Bluella is dead.

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Why I Hate the Avant-Garde, part 2

Part 1

Re: Johannes’s comment on my recent post, I first saw people using “avant-garde” to refer to work made today in the late 1990s, on the Frameworks mailing list, which is:

an international forum on experimental film, avant-garde film, film as art, film as film, or film as visual poetry; film’s expressive qualities, aside from or in addition to its storytelling capacity. Any genre of experimental film, such as film diary, found footage, abstract, flicker, lyric, subversive, expanded, etc., can be discussed, as well as those films which fall into the cracks between the genres, or those not covered by other lists.

All aspects, from filmmaking to criticism, are acceptable in this context, including unipersonal production, techniques, history and esthetics of avant-garde film, critical discussions, new directions, courses and teaching, festivals, announcements of world-wide events in film, retrospectives, exchanges of information, etc. This list is not intended for the discussion of narrative film, nor documentary film, nor video, nor video art.

I love the Frameworks list (or loved it as long as I followed it, 1998–2003). But it’s obvious right away that this is a very specialized use of the terms “experimental film” and “avant-garde film”—the description goes on to list which techniques make film experimental and avant-garde! For example, scratching and painting on film is avant-garde, because folks like Len Lye and Stan Brakhage did it, and because mainstream Hollywood narrative films rarely do it. And so anyone who’s scratching on 8mm film today, and screening it at some underground NYC venue—congratulations, you’re avant-garde. But Wes Anderson, you’re not, because you make narrative films on 35mm. (Narrative can’t be AG!) Never mind the fact that this usage of “avant-garde” has nothing to do with:

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