Category: Prose poems

Two short pieces from STROMATA

Kafka Fuck

 

Once back at my place she plays it coy scuttling under the couch until I menace her with a can of Raid using it to steer her toward the bedroom antennae twitching in excitement crawling up the edge of my bedspread chittering as I run my fingers along her polished carapace stroking her thorax her withered ornamental wings fluttering mandibles dug into my pillow in insectile ecstasy while I prepare to mount her probing for anything resembling a vagina wondering if she uses protection and if not if the pupa will look anything like me.

 

* * * * *

Greenhouse Effect

 

I’m not going back to you. I’m gone. I’m outta here. You won’t find me. It’ll be like we never met. Just another face in the crowd. On a forgotten street. In a strange country.  One of the disappeared. Yeah. Lost in time and space. I wasn’t born in the first place.  Back to the womb. Stillborn. No. Aborted. A puddle of pink flesh. Gristle and blood.  Dumped in an incinerator. Reduced to ash. Floating in the troposphere. Burned by the sun. Ultraviolet radiation. A cancer on your body.

 

* * * * *

These are two of my favorite short prose pieces, excerpted from my recently released volume Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).

For ordering information, please go here.

Photo credit:  Sherron Burns

Companion volumes

Perfection!

(Click on image to enlarge)

For ordering info, visit my Bookstore.

Date of my book launch

The official launch of my two latest efforts, New & Selected Poems and Stromata: Prose Works, is October 4th, 2012. Sherron created a wonderful event poster. Hope to see you there:

(Click on the poster in order to view it full size)

Neil Armstrong has died

One of my heroes has died.

Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, an aviation pioneer, a far traveler and fearless explorer of unknown places.  Watching Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon is one of my earliest memories. They inspired me to look up, and instead of endless, daunting depths, view space as a domain not entirely empty or hostile to our kind.

After July 20, 1969 we were earthbound no longer.

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Iconic
(for Neil Armstrong)

The First Man must be humble
yet self-possessed in times of crisis
confident, as one who’s been sorely tried.

Drop him, spin him, shake him
race his heart,
see if he dies.

Undaunted by fame,
puzzled by all the fuss,
natural in the glare.

Stick him in a close compartment,
sling it into the girding dark;
crown him with hero’s laurels
should he return.

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TV

I saw the man walking on the moon. I watched it on TV. I couldn’t believe someone was really up there. I went to get my mother and ask her. She said she was too busy. She was cleaning up the kitchen or something. I told her about the man on the moon. But she didn’t seem to care. She had other things to think about. She told me to go outside. She told me that was enough TV for today.

Next up…STROMATA: PROSE WORKS (Publication date September 20th, 2012)

I’ve already leaked some of this over at my RedRoom page but (rubbing his hands together eagerly) here’s the cover of the companion volume to the New & Selected Poems.

Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011) includes the creme de la creme of my short prose pieces (some folks call them prose poems).  These are brief (usually under 500 words) narrative works, often quite surreal, twisted, satirical and, frankly, vicious. These bits are perfect for performing at readings and frequently provoke gasps and, seconds later, gales of laughter.  Some of my favorites are in Stromata: “Cranes”, “A.I.”…material that hasn’t been in print and available to readers for many, many moons.  And some new pieces that, I think, show a progression in terms of themes and my approach to the subject matter.

I’ve said it before but here it is again: I love these two thin volumes.  While books like The Last Hunt and Of the Night reflect my skills as a storyteller, the collected poems and prose poems prove that I can “dangle” artistically with the best of them.

Dangle? Sorry, that’s a term that might only be familiar to hockey fans. If a player can really fly on the ice, skate fast and stickhandle you right out of your jock, we say, “man, look at that guy dangle”.  It’s like a whistle of appreciation.

I hemmed and hawed about it but there will be an e-book and Kindle version of Stromata (unlike the poems). Frankly, the books are so beautiful, who would want to settle for electronic copies? Why not get the real thing and have two lovely tomes that you can treasure forever?

Chris Kent did both covers and, I’m telling you, his book designs just keep getting better and better. He seems to understand intuitively what I’m looking for, the “less is more” mentality I apply to every aspect of my life.  Chris is a delight to work with—no huge ego, just a desire to execute  covers that are artful and eye-grabbing and irresistible.

Both the Selected Poems and Stromata retail at $12.00 (U.S.A. & Canada) and they each clock in at around 116 pages. Slim…but there’s a lot of power packed into those little gems.

New & Selected Poems is available now, today, this very instant…the release date for Stromata is September 20th.

More info to come…

(Click on covers to see larger versions)

Latest news from Black Dog Press

A flurry of activity around here, finishing projects and scheming new ones and, meanwhile, trying not to over-do it on the work front.  That means maintaining a regular regimen of stretching, getting out of the house at least once every day for a walkabout, even if it’s only to the library and back. That also means reading more and trying to familiarize myself with this notion of “relaxing”. Re-lax?

I’ve been devouring lots of memoirs of late, a genre I usually wouldn’t touch with a fully charged cattle prod. But I’m not talking about the recent crop o’ crap—whining, self-indulgent wankfests—I’m referring to stellar efforts by Bernard Cooper and Frederick Exley. Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is an amazingly accomplished and courageous book. Two titles by Daniel Pinchbeck have also impressed, Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. I find his ideas and conjectures far more lucid and comprehensible than the late Terence McKenna’s; I predict Monsieur Pinchbeck is gonna be a star. He’ll alter more than a few consciousnesses before he’s through…

I’ve been bringing in lots of hard to find books via interlibrary loans…but, unfortunately, I’ve acquired a rather formidable stack, all of which must be read within a finite, prescribed time limit. No pissing about. Brilliant stuff like Graham Robb’s Parisians, Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, The Great War and Modern Memory (Paul Fussell), The Good Soldier Svejk (Jaroslav Hasek) and an anthology of modern German poetry edited by Michael Hamburger. And more on the way…

Ah, but don’t think I’ve been devoting myself entirely to leisure. Surely you know me better than that.

I have not one but two major projects nearing completion. You heard right.

It’s always bothered me that much of my early work (pre-1997) is out of print. There were a number of limited edition chapbooks produced during that interval (That First, Wound-Bearing Layer and Genuinely Inspired Primitive), poetry (violins in the void)…and none of it is available any more. Sold out. A cursory check on-line tells me that a few enterprising souls are offering these hard-to-find editions at a pretty steep price.

So I’ve spent the last couple of months assembling, culling and editing two short volumes, clocking in at around 115 pages each.

The first, which should be out in mid-July, is New & Selected Poems (1984-2011). Over 25 years of my best verse brought together in one nice, compact tome. These poems are personal and revealing, condensed almost to the point of combustion…I love them but they scare me. I think the short Afterword I’ve provided at the end of the book explains why.

The other volume is a compilation of my short prose pieces and monologues. I’m calling it Stromata and the material it covers dates back to 1992. Stromata will be available the end of August.

The two books are intended to be companion volumes and their design will reflect that. You’ll see what I mean—I’ll upload the covers once our pal Chris Kent has put something together.

Both books will retail around $12 and, no, before you ask, no advance orders. Nothing until I have the first shipment from Lightning Source sitting in my front hallway.

Looking forward to an exciting summer…although I wish this mix of sun and rain we’ve had so far would be replaced by two weeks of hot, dry weather. A real Saskatchewan summer. Ah, well, it’s still early days. Other than the horrendous mosquitoes, last summer was just about perfect. Here’s hoping for lots sun, fun and reading in the months ahead.

See you at the lake.

Remember to bring a good book.

Here are ten poems, excerpted from New & Selected Poems, just posted on my Scribd page.  Click on the link and go have a look…

“The Midnight Detective” (Spoken Word)

Couldn’t get into serious writing yesterday–still catching up on research on my western novel, The Last Hunt, and I’m not yet at the point where I can begin to tackle necessary revisions.

My science fiction story needs one final polish/run through before I send it off.  I’ll likely get that done today.

And so…yesterday.

Decided to create a little something with Garageband.  The first effort wasn’t very good but the second tune had promise (as soundtrack music for the creepiest film ever made maybe) and then came the third number…

Well.  I didn’t really set out to create a spoken word bit, but that’s how it came out.  I was poking around my notebook and came across a series of phrases that, if you put them together, would almost make a kind of narrative…

I plugged in the microphone and gave it a shot.  The very first vocal track was perfect and then I started building and shaping music around it.

The end result is “The Midnight Detective”, a 2 1/2 minute effort that plays around with noirish conceits and comes together for a rather tasty finale.

This piece should work on whatever audio player your computer employs (if it’s fairly new) and, of course, you’re free to download it and share it with pals and like-minded folks who might get a charge out of my whacked out, postmodern detective.

You’ll find more of my musical noodling and spoken word efforts on my Audio page.

Click here to listen to Midnight Detective

* This post is dedicated to Caroline Ames–Happy Birthday, kid.

“Robot Boy” (1969-70?)

The show was called “Robot Boy” and I’m hoping at least some of you remember it.

Each episode was six or eight minutes long—it was really just filler so you never knew what time it would run.  Anywhere from 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning until the “Star Trek” theme music cut in at 10:00 sharp.  It’s possible the show was produced out of the nearest TV station, which was in Yorkton, about seventy miles away (the only channel that came in clear).  “Robot Boy” had that really home made look, the production values pretty shabby.  But I didn’t care.  I was an avid fan.  Hated it when I missed an episode, just about inconsolable for the rest of the weekend.  Yeah, even then I was a bit of a diva.

The premise was stupefyingly simple:  Robot Boy (really just a cheap, windup toy) is insatiably curious and one day wanders away from the safety of the toy box to seek adventure in the great, wide world.  But unfortunately he soon gets lost and embroiled in various unfamiliar situations, trying to logically decipher what’s happening with his tiny robot brain.  Some of the conclusions he reaches are hilarious, way off the mark.  He’s totally naive when it comes to things that go on in real life.

There are shots of Robot Boy shuffling slowly down the sidewalk, going about 50 feet an hour, gigantic human shoes stepping over him, nearly knocking him into the gutter, legs moving past in the background, everyone oblivious to the lost little robot creeping through their midst.

My favorite episodes, the two I have the clearest memories of:   Robot Boy is menaced by a ferocious dog…but interprets its behavior as a warning and thanks it profusely while the dog strains to reach the tin figure, just an inch or two out of reach.  And there’s the episode where Robot Boy gets accidentally locked in a supermarket overnight and wanders up and down the aisles, admiring all the “exhibits” in the “museum”.

I Googled “Robot Boy” and found a few bloggers who reference the show.  There’s even a loose association of people who post on forums, swapping old news and rumors.  The main problem is there were only ten or twelve episodes of “Robot Boy” that were ever aired and no copies in any form seem to exist.  Which gives even more weight to my conjecture that the show was locally produced.  Maybe at one time it was even shot on videotape.  But those tapes are long gone or erased and reused.  There are still photos, grainy, not entirely convincing, their provenance unclear.  Forum members are divided, the rhetoric sometimes heated.  People are touchy when it comes to nostalgia.  Some have gone to all the effort of building scale models of Robot Boy, their attention to detail bordering on the obsessive.

I made mine out of cardboard boxes I found in the garage.  I was seven years old and the ugly duckling of the family…but when I slipped inside my cardboard costume I became Robot Boy.  My other life forgotten, my human existence shed like an itchy, constricting skin suit, too tight in the crotch.  The boxes smelled of apples and old newspapers.  I hung my arms out holes I cut in the sides.  Hands instead of pincers and an aluminum pie plate taped to the front, the dial sketched in with black marker.

I kept it in the basement, away from prying eyes.  In a cubbyhole by the furnace, where my sisters would never look.  My alter ego and guardian angel.  Big and blocky and comforting.  Made of indestructible metal.  Powered by atomic cells.  An obedient, loyal friend, willing to endure anything for me, even long hours in the dark.  I loved him and he loved me.   We understood each other.  And when “Robot Boy” was canceled, I grieved and felt a genuine sense of loss and betrayal.  I went down and I kicked the hell out out those boxes, kicked them to pieces.  They never showed re-runs and I wouldn’t have watched them anyway.  Robot Boy was dead to me.  That part of my life was over…

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This is blog posting #150 and, well, I wanted to make it something special.

I trust you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Feel free to share your thoughts, on “Robot Boy” or other relevant matters.  Here’s hoping for a great year ahead in 2011 for one and all.

Taking the pledge: a resolution to read more books

Where does time fly?  Over two weeks since my last post and, in that interval, I’ve been occupying myself with hours of scribbling.  Filling dozens of notebook pages…unfortunately, very little of this material will ever make it to publication.  Lots of meditations, strange aphorisms, gleanings from the subconscious.  Here’s one example:

“How many failures turn out to be posthumous geniuses?  Not very many, as it happens, the proportion disappointingly low.”

What does that mean?  A subconscious dig from my wily Muse, a nugget of wisdom…or mere prattle?  And there’s pages and pages of the stuff, much of it spiritually oriented.  Many of the entries make for uncomfortable reading, nakedly honest and personal.  What should I do with these raw ramblings?  This is material not intended for public consumption…but at the same time some of it packs undeniable power.  Save it for the archives, hope someone will find it interesting or insightful.  Bury it deep, amid old tax receipts and early drafts of stories.

The end of the year is always a time for reflection for me; I settle into introspective fugues where I consider the past 365 days and look with anticipation (and trepidation) to the year ahead.  What have I accomplished? Where do I go from here?  Point me to the next mountain to climb…

A few things have become clearer to me during this time—the first is that I’d like to make the act, the process of writing more fun, not bear down so hard, subjecting my system to so much abuse and stress.  I’m obsessive-compulsive by temperament, a perfectionist in every aspect of my life.  Everything has to be done just right or I go ballistic.  No half-measures, no band-aid solutions, no excuses for failure.  That’s the kind of cat I am.

But that has to change.  I’m older and my body is starting to manifest some of the punishment it has absorbed over the years.  My fingers, neck and shoulders.  My back—Christ, my back.  The mental and spiritual damage has been even more substantial, but I won’t get into that.  A different approach is required…and I’m not exactly the best person when it comes to new approaches (see:  aforementioned obsessive compulsiveness).  Maybe voice recognition software is part of the answer, I dunno.  I recently bought myself a better office chair, adjusted the height of the monitor so it’s more ergonomically placed, added padding under the keyboard—that will, hopefully, allay some of the physical symptoms.  But in terms of approaching my vocation/obsession from a healthier psychic perspective, well, that requires an effort of a whole other magnitude.

I need to write in order to feel settled, sane.  But how can I make writing more of a pleasure, less of a chore?  I’ve devoted a lot of thought to that over the past while and I think I’ve come up with a few answers, partial solutions.  Some of it involves very personal mini-epiphanies that presented themselves to me, insights that are, frankly, too private to share.  They relate to my spiritual beliefs, the ridiculous expectations I place on myself.  The pain that causes.  It’s also about deriving a sense of accomplishment from some of the fine writing my pen has produced over the past quarter century.  I don’t have to keep trying so hard to prove my worth, establish my artistic credentials.  The work speaks for itself.  Stories like “Invisible Boy”, “Daughter” and “Bedevilled”; the novellas and prose poems.  And, of course, my two novels.

Just write.  Write without a sense of self-consciousness; write from instinct, letting the words flow unimpeded from their original source.

It’s all about the words.  The right one in the right place.  Over and over again, sentence by sentence, until something precious and timeless has been created.  The masters of language show us how it’s done.  They showed me.  It was reading that made me want to compose stories of my own, tales no one else has told.  I read voraciously, learned my craft at the feet of giants.  Books were entertainment and professional development all at once.

But something’s happened over the past decade.  I’ve read less and less.  In the past few years I think I averaged between 60-65 books a year and that’s a pathetic number for someone who fancies himself some kinda hotshot author.  I’m talking about books read for my own enjoyment, stuff not related to research or my work.

So one of the other changes I’m making for the new year is that I’m resolving to read more.

I’m taking my own, personal “100 Book Challenge”.  I want to recommit to the printed word in a big way.  It means switching off, tuning out.  “Off the grid” days, spent hunkered in my rocker recliner, reading a novel or collection of stories.

Because I have no doubt all the hours I’ve spent reading on-line, scanning news articles and items of interest, has screwed up my concentration.  I find it hard to focus on a book for more than ten pages at a time without needing to get up, make some tea, stack the dishwasher…and then come back for another crack.  Ditto movies.  How many times has Sherron complained because I’m pausing a film to go to the john or grab myself a drink?  Okay, part of that has to do with a pea-sized bladder but I also think all that time in cyberspace has had a deleterious effect on my attention span.

I read an article in the Manchester Guardian that talked about similar matters so I know I’m not alone in this feeling.  The piece quotes me old chum John Miedema, who is a noted proponent of the “slow reading” movement and I found myself nodding along at various points.  And then a chap in my LibraryThing group posted a lecture by Susan Greenfield in which she talks about learning and brain plasticity.  Fascinating stuff.  Ms. Greenfield makes a distinction between the information one finds on-line and “in-depth knowledge” that can only be gained from reading a book.  I hope folks out there are apprising themselves as to some of the new theories that are emerging relating to how computers are fundamentally changing the way we think.  I think the evidence is absolutely compelling and parents, in particular, must be educated re: how all those hours playing video games and “World of Warcraft” are rewiring their kids’ brains.

Years ago, when we were still living in Iqaluit (on Baffin Island), I gave a presentation on books and reading to an audience of about twelve people.  I remember becoming quite emotional as I spoke about how books had literally saved my life.  I believed then—and believe to this day—that was not mere hyperbole.  My childhood was hardly idyllic and my love of reading gave me, at once, an escape from worldly travails and spurred and fired my imagination.

I want to recapture that, the allure and beauty of the printed word.  The thoughts and visions reading inspire in me.

A hundred books in one year?  Can I manage it?  Will my hellish work ethic fight tooth and nail with my desire to settle into an armchair with some Jim Shepard stories or the latest David Mitchell effort?  I’ll let you know via periodic blog posts how I’m doing.  My progress (or lack of same).  I won’t cite every damn book I’m reading but I’ll drop in the occasional review (maybe even resuscitate my “Burning Moonlight” column, you never know).   God knows, I’ve got enough good books lying around, gathering dust.  I search them out, I buy them…but can’t seem to free up the time to actually, y’know, read the f***ing things.  Pathetic.

But no more.  I’m turning over a new leaf.  2011 will involve a serious reboot.  I’ve made my resolutions and I firmly intend to keep them.  Ease back on the throttle.  Stop trying to impress.  Create for the sheer love of creating.  Rediscover the joy and wonder of my craft through reading the best contemporary authors and the finest of past masters.  Work to improve myself through a process that doesn’t involve self-flagellation.

I wrote in a blog entry a couple of years ago that after more than two decades as a professional author I finally felt like the apprenticeship period was over.

But, I amend, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be too old to go back to school.

Tales from the “Open Mike”

Every couple of months, Wendy at our local library organizes an “open mike” for any writers interested in sharing their work in a, gulp, public forum.

I’ve kind of lost my zest for performing my stuff live but I started going, hoping it would encourage my two sons, both talented writers, and their friends to contribute.  I love it when a visibly nervous teen author stands in front of us and, voice quaking, reads a poem or short story.  Takes me back to the days when I—

Well, never mind.

I always try to have new material for the “open mike” and this time premiered three pieces that even my wife hadn’t heard before.  Here are the four offerings I read last night, including “Accident”, which appeared on this blog a couple of years ago but, what the heck, thought I’d reprint it anyway (it read beautifully):

 

Accident


This is a car crash.  It’s happening right now.  A collision in progress.  Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats.  And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max.  You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it.  Something else.  A heaviness.  In the region of your chest.  A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be.  A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born.  From the backseat.  Ten A.U.’s behind you.  Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations.  Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying.  On the threshold of an instant.  The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.

 

Reaper


November is bleeding,

leached of color, vitality,

the land losing its life’s blood

in dark, spreading gouts.

Anemic, cancerous, brittle,

tiny bones crackling underfoot:

this is the graveyard of summer.

Brightening it with festive lights,

disguising it with tinsel, false cheer

but unable to defeat the oppression,

looming like a storm front.

Hibernation is a state between life and death,

a sleep from which some animals never wake–

another hard winter descends from the mountains,

the sun creeping back to make way.

 

Bird

“When that love was done with, I was left like a bird on a branch.  I was no longer any use for anything.” Paul Eluard & Andre Breton, The Immaculate Conception (Translation by Jon Graham)

 

I am that bird/a useless, futile thing/purposeless and unblinking/stiffly clutched on my shivering perch

Denied foresight, stratagems/creature of instinct, heedless/as scattered petals or blown seed/no decisions, save alarm and flight

like the lilies of the field

like the trees and stones,

or a worm, turning in thick, black dirt

Free from striving and strife/charged only with existence/descended from dinosaurs/ small-brained and tuned to the stars

Waking you with piercing melodies/disdainful of the tardy dawn/spying with small, beady eyes/as you depart for work in a funk

Nestled against the weather/high up where the cats can’t reach/alert, yet lightly dozing/untroubled by what you call “dreams”

 

First Words

“My health was endangered.  Terror assailed me.”

Arthur Rimbaud, on the writing of Illuminations


Franz Kafka insisted we should only read books that “bite and sting us”.  Volumes, one presumes, capable of savaging unwary readers, leaving them spotted with blood.  Kafka, a gentle man, left strict instructions in his will that his writings be burned.  His executor, Max Brod, ignored his friend’s wishes and preserved his distinctive novels and stories; as a result, each year I risk serious injury plucking them from my shelves.

Words created us and words sustain us:

“The technical language of religion is

symbolism, with storytelling one of its

most important varieties.”

(so sayeth Huston Smith)

Ideas become words become action.  The correct conjunction of vowels and consonants will, according to some mythologies, lead to an unbinding.

A return to nullity.  From whence we came.

Be mindful and compassionate.  Practice right thought, right speech.  Do not call the worst into being.  Offer prayers to a Creator beyond faith.  Use the ancient words of praise.  The ones handed down through the ages.  Hallowed be thy name, o, God, thy will be done

 

*****************************************************************************

 

When I finished reading, Sherron was beaming.

Snuck in under the eight-minute time limit too.

Thanks to all the participants and audience members.  See you at my book launch on Wednesday!

 

(Photo by Zach Den Adel)