Thursday, December 22, 2011

Read This Book: Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke

Her husband brought this book home from the magical place where most all the books in their house have come from--the best ones that move from bookcase to bookcase, the ones carried most and that, most often, while she and he sleep, seemingly try to slip out the door--again and again and so they must be pinned down with little notes in the margins, dark lines under their feet.

Space, in Chains is a collection of 72 poems by Laura Kasishke, whom she hadn't read or heard of until now and now she thinks is one of the most brilliant writers moving among us.

From the publisher: Space, in Chains speaks in ghostly voices, fractured narratives, songs, prayers, and dark riddles as it moves through contemporary tragedies of grief and the complex succession of generations. [. . .] Kasischke has pared the construction of her verse to its bones, leaving haunting language and a visceral strangeness of imagery.

This is one of those breathless reviews, the kind where she doesn't want to, or cannot yet, explain why this book is good, why we must read it, why the writer shows her skill--her genius here, here, and here, too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ho! Ho! Oh! The Floating Order Available on the Kindle

Click to Preview 
Two Ravens Press has recently released a Kindle Edition of her short-story collection The Floating Order.

Retailing at $7.99, the Kindle Edition is half the price of the print version.  A short preview of is available as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Man Types a Painting

A man has typed a painting.  To do this, he had to rebuilt a typewriter.  It's a lovely idea, she thinks, especially because the image below is pretty representative of how she imagines her writing process as she's inside it: the page as she writes, just before the ink dries from clouds into letters.

It's a lovely idea.  

Read the interview with the man over at and view his non-typed paintings at his website.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

From the Child's Shelf: Holiday Books for 2011

Tonight, she went to the bookstore with a mission to find a good holiday book for children... published this year.  As it went, she didn't find that book.  She did find an excellent, non-holiday book that was published last year entitled A Sick Day for Amos McGee, but she's saving that to review for another day.

The holiday books at this particular shopping-mall-bound bookstore were rather disappointing.  All of the Night Before Christmases were either cartoony and bubbly or artful but all were dull in their choices: as in, she felt like she'd already looked through these books even though she hadn't.  A mouse, stockings from a mantle, a man running to the window.  Got it.  Books that would require a lot of rationalization or cash to burn before buying.

There were books there she recognized.  She didn't bother picking up the Mercer Mayer book because she loved Little Critter  books as a child.  And she skimmed through The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by James Marshall, and it was also great (a chicken sleeping with the children, and all the usual and excellent detail that makes the illustrations integral to the story but also their own separate stories). But all of James Marshall's books are witty, creative, and interesting, and this one was published in 1985.  She set it down, glad to be reminded of it, but still wanting to find a great recent book.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Began at 1104 South Linwood

My mother, 1939
Since I interviewed my mother a few years ago, hers has become the most popular post on What She Might Think. Because of this and because I won't see her this Christmas, I wanted to interview her again. 

To prepare, I searched online for images of the house where she grew up in the 1940s and '50s, and where I would spend many of my Christmases through the 1980s and '90s.  

I located the house on google maps, and stood in front of it in a virtual world. A junk car was parked outside. A destitute grocery cart was kicked up on the curb. The tree blocked most of the porch where a swing once hung and my grandmother's plants grew in heavy planters, and where I roller-skated back and forth one visit. The house like a gravestone, a wind-block for someone else's faded flowers.

Built in 1915, only a few years after my grandmother was born, my grandparents' house was first my great-grandfather's, Great-Grandpa Steffee. Evidently, when my great-grandmother died of tuberculosis, my grandmother decided that, as my mother says, great-grandfather "couldn't boil water", and so she insisted that she, her husband (my grandfather) and their young family move in with him. 
holly flourish

Q. Often, I feel like many of my Christmas memories take place in Evansville, and I don't know if that's because we went to visit your parents every Christmas or because I would imagine Evansville when you told me stories of your life. Do you have a similar experience in that you have memories of Christmases that your mother would tell you about? What were Grandmother's Christmases like, as far as you know? Do you remember her telling any stories about them? What about your father?

My mother, her father, her grandmother
A.  . . . Mother. . . We did not talk big time in the family. The most talking we did was when we were doing dishes. If we wanted to embarrass mother, we'd ask embarrassing questions. Neither parent talked much about their past. I think mother's past was like ours. The Depression started in '29 when Dad was about to graduate high school, but I think things were already bad. No, Dad didn't talk about that anymore than he talked about World War II.

I remember you talking fondly of your childhood Christmases. I remember you saying you would get an orange in your stocking every year, and I think you also got candy. It seems that one year you got a doll but weren't very impressed with her: I think you'd wanted something else. Can you describe your Christmases more? 

Probably the expectation of everything-Christmas was as wonderful, if not more so, than the actual opening of gifts.  According to Mother, my dad started our tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. Then, while we slept that night, Mother filled the stockings with the above fruit, candy, and tiny gifts wrapped in the previously used wrapping paper from Christmas Eve.  I'm sure we went to Grandma Ryan's house on Christmas Eve (before the late-night worship 
service at church) or Christmas Day.

Part of the preparation was going to Dalton's grocery store a block away--before supermarkets were 'invented'--to choose a scrawny, short-needled pine tree for our Christmas tree.  Each tree was set in a block of wood (also prior to tree stands) and usually had one side with branches fuller than the other side--the one we put against the window so we wouldn't have to look at it! Mother also managed to buy or gather additional greenery to...

From The Child's Shelf: Feel Santa Claus' Beard

Of course, over the many Christmas years, a plethora of good Christmas books for children have been made, read, remaindered but still read.  No doubt, her favorite Christmas book from her childhood is the 1940 book Feel Santa Claus' Beard, though it's no rival for the elegant The Polar Express.

Whereas The Polar Express ends to twist the heart because the older one gets, the harder it is to hear the bell from Santa's sleigh, Feel Santa Claus' Beard ends, if she remembers correctly, with a happy white family in their colorful pajamas opening presents by a Christmas tree.  It is, as everyone knows, a holy image. And if the social critics are right: a terribly despondent family behind their smiles, just come from re-hiding failure in the attic and God in the deep freeze.

It is the 1950s Caucasian-American Christmas reality ideal, brought to us by the same people who brought us the Pilgrims and their beloved Natives, and set in what is likely the placeless-place we all know as the Midwest: her birthplace, and where Abe Lincoln split logs and walked with muddy feet on the ceiling (have you heard that one?).  Lincoln who, like Santa, wore black boots.

Feel Santa Claus' Beard is one of those sensory books, a "Touch and Feel Book": feel his beard, which really is quite soft and fluffy, and as she remembers, an effective hook into opening the pages to the annual disappointment that no other touch-illustration was as interesting.  For example, there are his black boots, but they are rather shiny.  Then there is the chimney, which is pasted with gravel.  At last come the presents, gold-foiled and much like the feeling of his black boots, which have no especially distinguished feeling.

But it's a durable book, cardboard pages that have lasted thirty years and of the size made to empower children readers because it fits their hands and is image-heavy, useful on the snowy days when children idle about the house in quiet exploration and sometimes belly-down to flip through private worlds made just for them.

She loves this book.  Maybe because this is the Santa image from which all are based on for her, or because he looks like the cardboard Santa face she would tape to the living-room mirror every year, or maybe just because this was part of the Christmas box of books that would be tucked away all year then brought out with the tinsel her mother had dutifully removed from last year's tree and re-packaged in a ziplock bag for next year's tree.

--Along with the ornate silver ball that plugged into the wall and, every ten seconds, chirped like a bird.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Relanguaging: Toward a Definition, Of Sorts and a Bird

Thanks to Jack Kaulfus's recent flash review of Curio by Lauren Ellen Scott , she read "The Brewsters", which is a really smart little thing, a delightful re-languaging romp.   What does re-languaging mean?  It's a word she just made up as a way to describe what Scott is doing.  What Scott is doing is re-languaging.  Although Scott is not the first to relanguage, "The Brewsters" is, for our purposes, a very effective example not only because it's well done, but also because it's SO very well done.

The Jumblies
Edward Lear re-languaged, too.  For an example of Lear's re-languaging (or to figure out more how she's defining this new word), read his poem "The Jumblies".  She thinks you'll find that Ellen Scott and Lear are linguistic friends.  If you enjoy "The Brewsters", then you'll definitely want to read "The Jumblies"--aloud, of course, aloud.

Re-languaging may be a synonym for Nonsense-verse, but it should be clear that relanguaging may not be set on a metered line. But! re-languaging, as a descendant of nonsense-verse, requires syncopation.

Re-languaging is to nonsense verse what early jazz was to blues.

Re-languaging may cause whimsy but the whismy may offset, or collide with, the deep questioning of reality or the suggestion that deep questioning is occurring; although, in fact, due to the effects of re-languaging, the presence of deep questioning may be more an aesthetic effect of the collision between language and meaning.  The aesthetic effect, however, can cause deep questioning in the reader.

It may be the case that re-languaging is more applicable in its use to fiction. If not, and only if, because poetry has a full dictionary of words to describe itself with, and poetry may not accept fiction that re-languages as a poetic form.  It could be argued, and likely someone will (and why not?), that "The Brewsters" is a prose poem and not flash fiction.  The argument, if proven valid, may lead to the conclusion that "The Brewsters" is not re-languaging but doing [insert poetry term].  This person who argues to such a conclusion will likely like clam chowder with a sweet potato on the side.

Re-languaging should not be, however, used as a synonym for experimental writing since experimental writing does not imply or guarantee interesting rhythm--although pieces that re-language may be defined as experimental, and the most interesting experimental writing may re-language.  See Michael Stewart's A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic for an example of this, or Ben Marcus's The Age of Wire and String.  Susan Steinberg re-languages in many of the stories in The End of Free Love, but she is of the held-note variety of re-languagers.
Rain, by Marc Chagall (1911)

(Held-note relanguaging: a distant cousin of Ben Marcus and Ellen Scott, like the compromise between the two, although nothing has been compromised. Style typified by circular, rhythmic language that, as it both circles and progresses, creates a narrative.)

In visual art, re-languaging is closest to this painting by Chagall (when it is worn as a song that sits as a bird on one's heart, clutching):