“A man went to knock at the king’s door and said, Give me a boat.”
–from Jose Saramago’s Tale of the Unknown Island
I met Joanna Ruocco at her release gathering for The Mothering Coven. After her reading, she gave me a copy of the latest issue of Birkensnake. She’s one of the editors there and she told me that she had bound the book herself. It’s a lovely object that was both blowtorch-singed, and sprayed, I think, with some kind of toxic (is there any other kind?) fixative.
Birkensnake 2 opens with Michael Stewart’s “The Children’s Factory,” a beguiling short short with no shortage of underlying menace. The factory’s machines here are “run by tiny hands. In the bowels. In the guts. In the very intestinal tract of it…” and the “Devil only knows what their great machine does—other than wheeze and breathe.” Though it easily works as a standalone piece, it also felt like it could be a fragment of a much larger narrative.
An excerpt from Danielle Dutton’s novel A World Called the Blazing World follows. It’s about Margaret Cavendish, a polymath who lived in England in the 17th century. Besides being Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne she was a prolific writer who wrote poetry, philosophy, prose romances, essays, plays, and she also wrote a proto-science fiction novel, The Blazing World. Dutton is a wonderful stylist who writes sentences to luxuriate in:
The trip to Oxford was made in the dead of night. Kisses on the lawn at St. John’s Green. A perfect summer gloom of vegetal bravado: peonies, bugloss, native beetles singing.
Then someone cleared his throat—and Margaret saw she was in an alternate universe whirring far into space: African servants, poets, dogs in silken caps, platonic ideals, sparkling conversation, aristocratic ladies “half-dressed, like angels,” and ivy-coated quadrangles with womanizing captains, dueling earls, actors.
what have you been reading this week?
this week, i’ve read:
1. michael stewart’s a brief encyclopedia of modern magic: a beautiful, magical little thing. cutting words, drawing serious blood. the first of many appearances we’ll be seeing of michael stewart, a name to remember & cite.
2. baruch spinoza’s ethics: dense, intense logic, a necessity for readers, writers, & people. the influence his philosophy has had on my thinking writing etc is invaluable. i took 20+ pages of hand-written notes. i probably could have taken more, had i more patience.
3. kate greenstreet’s the last 4 things: i’ll write a full post about this later, but greenstreet’s poetry is brutal. for instance: “Dear friend, I can believe in the influence of Mars as fully as I can in the aorta. It’s all invisible, in a normal day–though felt, as rhythm or excitement or pressure. You have the plate you can’t drink from. And that one’s missing an arm. And making art, too, is a kind of disappearing. A bucket with holes, on purpose.” i usually don’t read like understand poetry. greenstreet’s collection defies any of that. her words go through you, pausing here and there to grab flesh and crack bone, or at least, that’s what she’s done to me.
4. marcel proust’s swann’s way: i usually read very quickly, but proust demands a patient & tender reading. i had a conversation with matt kirkpatrick about this, & i’ll post more on proust soon, but why talk about joyce etc, when there is proust? where’s the proust love? this is THE book, the book if i could have no other book but one, this one, where i would want to both hide and die and be resurrected. (to be fair, i haven’t finished this book. this does not dilute my impressions in the least though!)
A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic
by Michael Stewart
32 pages. Tape-bound.
Every illusion carries a price and no one is more aware of that than the wondrous, tragic magicians detailed here. They know darkness that leaves scars. They know failure that gives birth to terrible life. They know their journey is one of haunting, their competition one that doesn’t end with this world. Did it never occur to us they keep their tricks a secret to protect us?
Plus tricks you can do at home!
(You should never do these tricks at home.)