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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Evenson’

What We’re Loving: Toomer, Kusama, and Train

July 13, 2012 | by

Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration No. 1, 1962–67, watercolor, ink, graphite, and photocollage on paper, 15 7/8 × 19 13/16 in. Collection of the artist. © Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo; Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Six years ago I wrote a little article about my favorite Washington, D.C., novels—and was roundly chastised for leaving Cane off the list. First published in 1923, Jean Toomer’s modernist classic isn't exactly about Washington, and it isn’t exactly a novel. It’s an early response to the Great Migration, in linked stories and verse, that moves from rural Georgia to U Street and back again. Still, it may well be the District’s greatest hit. It is pure lyricism, perfect for these late summer nights. —Lorin Stein

I caught a preview of the Yayoi Kusama retrospective that opened at the Whitney yesterday. If you’ve heard of her at all, it’s likely for her signature polka dots (or perhaps for her recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton). As a video in the show attests, her use of those dots was compulsive and obsessive: she sticks them on prone nudes, reclining cats, distracted dogs; they litter the ground, the wind, the sky. But most intriguing are her very early paintings, in which you can see Kusama working through the early masters of Western modernism. Of particular interest was a very odd painting incredibly titled Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization), in which waves of red curtain folds pinhole a scene of bare trees. As chance would have it, the painting perfectly represented the book I’ve been reading, Windeye, Brian Evenson’s adroitly creepy new story collection. It’s kismet! —Nicole Rudick

What is glamour and how does one attain it? Is it curated, cultivated—or does it just arrive, like inspiration? Jim Lewis’s article for W magazine, “Face Forward,” is the perfect starting point for anyone intrigued by (or dismissive of) this fleeting, shimmering quality. For me, if beauty is an image, then glamour is imagery: aesthetics in the service of narrative. What is glamour, after all, but good storytelling? Presenting a glimpse of a lifestyle—or perhaps, a way of being—other, elsewhere, and then gone. —Alyssa Loh
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Things We Love: Vallejo, Factory Records, and ‘The Lonely Doll’

April 27, 2012 | by

Trilce, by the Peruvian modernist César Vallejo, is a book of poems I’ve read (the verb is probably too strong) with much enjoyment and little comprehension. Vallejo’s Spanish has almost nothing in common with the language I learned at school, but its obscurity is addictive: I keep going back to the poems. So far as we know, Vallejo gave only one interview; it has now been translated, for the first time, into English by Kent Johnson. Vallejo’s repartee isn’t as baffling as his poems, but it’s almost as enjoyable. —Robyn Creswell

The lost César Vallejo interview should be paired with Paul Muldoon’s translation of “Piedra negra sobre una Piedra blanca,” which is probably the best English version of Vallejo’s most famous poem. Muldoon calls it “Testimony”:

I will die in Paris, on a day the rain’s been coming down hard,
a day I can even now recall.
I will die in Paris—I try not to take this too much to heart—
on a Thursday, probably, in the Fall.
It’ll be like today, a Thursday: a Thursday on which, as I make
and remake this poem, the very bones
in my forearms ache.
Never before, along the road, have I felt more alone.
César Vallejo is dead: everyone used to knock him about,
they’ll say, though he’d done no harm;
they hit him hard with a rod
and, also, a length of rope; this will be borne out
by Thursdays, by the bones in his forearms,
by loneliness, by heavy rain, by the aforementioned roads.

—John Jeremiah Sullivan

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Night Shifts; Manufacturing Arrows

September 27, 2011 | by

Jean-Francois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure (detail), 1855, oil on canvas.

Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.

John Brandon: I did my best for a while at a lumber mill that fashioned blunt-tip wooden arrows. The only use for the product, as far as I know, is in schools that teach archery as part of their PE program. This may have been the only wooden-arrow producer in the country. I was the new man, as I always was in those days, so I had to drag the colossal hunks of raw cedar around to the head saw. If one were to design a task for the specific purpose of causing hernias, this would be that task. Perilously awkward, perilously heavy lifting. Another thing left to the new guy was rolling the arrows to see which were warped. You had to lean over a wide table for hours on end, knotting your shoulders and neck. I also shoveled out the sawdust room. All the sawdust from the mill was sucked up and blown into this stifling shed that leaned against the main building, and once a week I had to put on a mask and wedge myself in there and shovel it all into canvas bags. It took most of a day. Once in a while a circus would come and purchase all the sawdust—I’m not sure why. Anyway, the place was in the middle of nowhere, so on breaks there was nothing to do but lean against the outside wall and pick sawdust out of your nose and ears.

I worked Monday to Thursday, ten hours a day, with a forty-five-minute drive at each end. Thursday nights, my work week over, my girlfriend would drag me to a beach bonfire where I’d dull my aches with Alaskan Amber and eat hamburgers, tugboats belching in the distance. The wee hours of one of those nights was the only time, as an adult, that I pissed the bed. Being thoroughly drunk and sort of tired had never caused this. Being thoroughly tired and sort of drunk did. Not to mention our studio apartment hung out over the sound, so we slumbered each night to the lapping of gentle waves.

Brian Evenson: In 1987, as a young college student, I had the pleasure of working four abysmally bad jobs, all of them at hours when no human should be awake. First I worked the graveyard shift in a sweeper truck, sweeping parking lots. I was the guy who would get out with a leaf blower in freezing cold weather and blow all the debris away from the curbs so the truck could get it. My partner’s job seemed to involve sitting in the heated cab getting high. When that job collapsed, I moved on to working the graveyard shift at a twenty-four-hour fast-food Mexican restaurant. It was just me and a very fat manager with peroxide hair who spent the time from one A.M. to two A.M. smoking, and two A.M. to four A.M. sleeping. When I finally couldn’t take that any more, I took a job as a part-time bread processor for the university, working from three A.M. to seven A.M. putting dough in an automatic proofer and then into an oven. I quit this job because my hands broke out in a rash. Simultaneously, I was washing pans in the backroom of another bakery from seven A.M. to nine A.M. I was fired from that because I couldn’t make it over quickly enough from my bread-processing job. There was, later, ditch-digging, working as a labor subforeman for a construction crew, working as an assistant manager at Hamburger World, and a job trying to program in a computer language that I didn’t know. But, in 1987, I didn’t have a single bearable job.

Chris Flynn is the books editor at The Big Issue and the fiction editor at Australian Book Review.

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