Tuesday, July 29, 2014

3 by Joshua Jarrett: Love Poems for Nobody, Dear Victor, & Diary

Joshua Jarrett is a young Georgian lover of drawing, writing, and other artistic endeavors. His work combines poetry and text with drawings/sketches, thus creating comics/zines/ebooks/something beautiful for others to experience/engage with/treasure and love. His first three releases ("Love Poems for Nobody," "Dear Victor,," & "Diary") delve into the personal and intimate, making his work autobiographically distinct, regardless of whether the subject he addresses is a(n unattainable) lover, a friend, an enemy, or simply himself. All three zines reviewed below can be found and downloaded for free (or a kind donation) at Jarrett's Gumroad account, which can be accessed via Facebook or not. NOTE: While Jarrett's work is extremely intimate/personal/autobiographical, I have chosen for the purposes of this review to treat the narrator/voice in each zine as though he were an entity separate from Joshua Jarrett, the Georgian lover of art.

Love Poems for Nobody (2013):

"Love Poems for Nobody" is definitely for somebody, but as to who that somebody is, the narrator never says. This ambiguity is not done out of coyness or intentional meanness, but rather because these poems and drawings (which certainly and intentionally resemble the doodles of a lovesick person) function as scattered thoughts, images, and half-sentences running within and throughout the internal mind--in this instance, the narrator's. There's a cute, quite musing going on in the narrator's head, a musing which we are very graciously allowed to witness. While starting out as seeming superficial and "cute," the poems/drawings gain emotional weight until, collectively (and) at the end, they summon within any reader whose love has gone unrequited a broken heart in solidarity. In some of the opening poems, the references made to magic and astrology convey a longing deep enough to grasp as straws. Later poems, such as "So" and "Pasttime," mong others, show us actions and attempts made at gaining notice from "Nobody;" romantic notice, and sometimes sexual. As the zine progresses, such longings and attempts give way to reflections about (hinted at) failures/rejections, particularly in "Personal Work" and "Catalogue," the latter ending: "a home with me / Without you." The final poem, "Jasmine Buds," gave me a "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" vibe, but just because of the title and the accompanying drawing: a leafy vine with flowers. The final poem itself, while being the zine's culmination of the reflective, aloof narrator, signifies that a decision as been reached, though what has been decided is left to speculation. A quick read which will nonetheless leave the reader moved, "Love Poems for Nobody" is an intimate, clear-cut look into the thoughts and feelings, hopes and reflections, of one (and anyone's) everyday life.

Dear Victor, (2013):

"Dear Victor," is a letter to a friend in a spooky disguise. While the letter to "Victor" is not, in itself, spooky, the words, when taken abstractly and coupled with night- and/or Halloween-themed drawings, give the zine a haunted quality. Starting as any letter does, there is the ice-breakers: How are you?; I am fine. Of course the weather is then mentioned, as weather invariably is, but it is at this point that the zine's atmosphere/"mood" changes to something eerie. In Jarrett's zine, like in Bram Stoker's "Dracula," the mood or atmosphere of the outside world (in the park, on the sidewalk, through the graveyard) gets...weird. As "Joshua's" mind wonders during the writing of his letter to "Victor," the thoughts become increasingly influenced by the Halloween/autumn season. The writing gets much more spaced out, each tiny passage given its own drawing; the more spaced out the words, the more the drawings and passages--both separately and together--seem bizarre, spooky; metaphysical. This makes "Dear Victor," all the more compelling. What connection exists between writing a letter to a friend who is away during the autumn? Certainly, there is a lack within "Joshua" while "Victor" is away, a lack which seems to be reflected in the exterior world: leaves die and fall, animals take on darker shades, the moon is more mesmerizing than usual. The final page is a return to reality, but a return informed by knowledge, as though the mental journey of writing the letter has brought consolation, though for whom is left ambiguous. The final words, "I know wherever you are... / you'll always come home," are a reassurance, not for "Victor" alone, but for "Joshua" as well. A letter, a comic, a plea, a spooky journey, "Dear Victor," is a zine for anyone who misses a friend and/or anyone who is alive during autumn.

Diary (2014):

Jarrett's third effort, "Diary," is like his b-sides, which I thought immediately after finishing it for the first time. If "Love Poems for Nobody" and "Dear Victor," are his finished/polished products, "Diary" is the sketches, the drafts, the lead-ups to the previous two. "Diary" is staccato: sometimes the drawings flow and go on for a page or a few, but sometimes they're completely different and just the best of practice drawings. But this is not to imply in any way that "Diary" is an incomplete or unthoughtful work; on the contrary, "Diary" is a rather appropriate name in that the zine works as a segmented view of an individual's life, viz., Joshua's. Some of the drawings and/or text are singular per page/train of thought, like those seen in "love Poems for Nobody," but others are simply cute drawings or practiced profiles. One standout comic/poem, which I will refer to as "HOT," is moody, physically nauseating, much like the character in "HOT" feels...and who had not felt similarly after a night of wicked fun? While some of the poems/lines/thoughts/half-sentences serve almost as the titles of the drawings/comics/sketches in "Diary," the inverse is also true: said 2D art often seems to be the titles for his poems/text. Perhaps a more accurate description, though, would be that Jarrett's drawings act as the fulfillers of his words and visa versa. Interestingly, whereas Jarrett's/the narrator's previous two zines only (maybe) hint at homosexuality, "Diary," in keeping with the theme of an actual diary, is much more open and up front about his sexuality. Jarrett's "Diary" is honest, intimate, inviting; he's not afraid here to admit that he experience self-doubt, fragility. As such, pain can be associated with flowers and unfinished comics sometimes have more to say than if they had been "finished." At times, deep, very nearly philosophical themes/ideas are touched upon for reflection, but then abandoned for continued drawing/writing, for everyday life. "Diary," then, seems to exist at the intersection of one's real, everyday life and one's passion for art; trying to find the connection to retain one's passion while also trying to make sense of one's life (school, work, friendships, family, relationships, and, perhaps most importantly, alone time).

Monday, July 21, 2014

BLACK CLOUD by Juliet Escoria

I was fortunate to hear Juliet Escoria read "Trouble and Troubledness" at a July 11th reading called Maritial Problems, hosted by Rachel Bell, in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. I remember really liking the story she read, especially the parts where the narrator cuts herself, because those moments where written and read so vividly they stuck in my mind. I also liked the part where she had sex with two boys at the same time because they were dating her two friends and her two friends were mean to her. Another thing I liked was that the story was segmented into sections marked by roman numerals. I like the structural implications of doing things like that in written art forms. This may be one reason why I really like Stephen King: Just about all of his novels are segmented into "Parts," "Chapters," and sections. After the reading ended, I saw Escoria selling a copy of her book to Nathan Masserang and I decided to buy a copy, too. So I thanked her for her reading and asked to buy a copy and so bought a copy of BLACK CLOUD (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014).
Later that night, while I stood on the platform of the State/Lake Red Line stop, I read the back cover's promotional review statements. I recognized names like "Beach Sloth," "Mira Gonzalez," "Electric Literature," "San Diego." I enjoyed the promotional review statements, finding Sloth's to be the most enticing: "brutal, honest, dark, and incredibly real." Perhaps that's why it was placed as the last of the reviews, so people would finish reading the promotional review statements feeling excited and pumped for Juliet Escoria. I must say, it had that effect on me, so when I entered the Red Line and sat down, I eagerly began reading BLACK CLOUD.
I think, first, I really appreciated the fact that each story was further made into a separate and individual thing by the pictures and theme-guiding phrases that accompany each story. I think every picture-word combo is probably related to the companion videos which are the stories being read (by the author, i think), but, having not seen them, I'm not sure. I've only read the book.
Remember being surprised by "Fuck California," like when you drive past a car crash on the highway, it came and went so quickly I reeled, but in an exciting, albeit dark, way. Confusion's "The Other Kind of Magic" really blew me away. I thought it was so accurate, so true to life. I have friends who go through similar situations and I feel as though the casual way in which twenty-first century affairs occur has never been as accurately portrayed as in Escoria's skilled hands. Not only that, but I felt a connection to the main character in this story, particularly when Escoria wrote, "and because you're bad at lying, you stare out the window," which is something I do because I'm also bad at lying. I took out my pen on the Red Line and underlined that sentence. "Reduction" made me sad near the end, given the way the man in the story reacted to learning about the woman's miscarriage. Felt bad, sad, guilty, disgust that men react so pigheadedly towards women and that women put up with it or are forced to put up with it and I wish it weren't so, which I think Escoria was trying to point out: Women, don't put up with shitty men.
Guilt's "Heroin Story" was both funny and poignant, light and dark, insightful and shallow, which is, of course, the entire point, wherein the narrator of that story is self-involved, further proving Escoria's superior mastery of effectively assuming different tones of voice throughout the stories. All of the main characters may seem to be the same in each of these twelve stories (unhappy, troubled, messed-up young women), but each main character is distinctly different, an individual woman with separate flaws, separate strengths, and wholly human. Whoever edited the arrangement of the stories should be commended for selecting "The Sharpest Part of Her" as the next story. This was the last story I read on the Red Line before I arrived at the Morse stop. I remember thinking how incredibly real and mundanely fucked up the abuse seemed. Brilliantly written such that the narrator, while wise and resigned, balances for us the love and hate, sympathy and caution, her childhood self experienced growing up under the rule of a drug addicted and mentally unstable mother. After I read this story, I went back to the preceding picture-and-a-word page and wrote "truly moving" next to DISGUST W/R/T the story's final sentences.


The next day, July 12, I made my way to Pilsen to fulfill an obligation before going to a reading located somewhere off the Brown Line. My beginning travels consisted of riding the Red Line to State/Lake where I transferred to the Pink Line(!) for 18th. I remember reading "Glass, Distilled" and thinking, 'wtf?' re: reading the feeding of mice to fish while strangers sat on the train around me; they had no idea what I was reading and I felt that they would find it disturbing if they did know what I was reading, but I liked the story and I liked it all the more for the fact that people would probably be alienated from me if they knew what sort of things I was reading. Sick. Vivid. But also deeply interconnected and is an example of Escoria's beautifully elliptical thematic style. "Hurricane Season" was quite good. I liked the clearcut realization the narrator has while seeing the man desiring her as much as he used to love alcohol. I remember thinking the ending was abrupt, but I liked that, reading it as an intentional technique to show the finality of the narrator's choice to walk away.
Shortly after graduating university, mid-May 2011, I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" while in a waiting room. As I sat there, I'm sure the receptionists thought I was odd because if, like me, you really get sucked into stories and experience feelings and sensations by the words on the page, you'll get sucked into "The Yellow Wallpaper." Which is what happened to me: the further I got into the story, the more I associated with the main character and felt fear & terror & suspense & paranoia and experienced physiological changes (increased heart rate, quicker breathing, widening eyes) that made me feel like my mind was crazy. Juliet Escoria's "Mental Illness on a Weekday" had the same effect on me. It is quite short (perhaps it and some or all of the other stores are flash fiction?), but Escoria's keen writing produced within me similar results: I began associating with the narrator and I have felt feelings as is described by the narrator, though not for prolonged periods of time. The piece culminates frighteningly and excitedly into a rallying poem that demands all people give into their manic impulses so as to free themselves. I also remember underlining and really liking the line, "I want to kiss you on the cheek and punch your quiet mouth." I think it is a beautiful line for a beautiful story.
"I Do Not Question It" was fuller; more history for the narrator to explain to us, making it a good followup story to "Mental Illness on a Weekday." After the rapidity of both "Mental Illness on a Weekday" and "Hurricane Season," the story of Powerlessness gave me something bigger to hold on to, to care about for a longer amount of time. I really liked the advice and lines, "'Stop thinking,' he would tell me, so I stopped. It worked. It's harder than it sounds but it's easier than you might think." I liked the progression of the words in these lines and the sentiments which they contain. It is similar to how I sometimes write things. I also like it because I often over-think situations/everything, so I was able to connect with these lines. "Grunion Run" startled me, both for the sudden fate of the characters in the story and for the sudden way Escoria brought about their fate, hiding it from us until the final possible moment. I was pleasantly shocked and wrote "holy shit!" next to the Self-Loathing picture. Upon a second reading 3 days later, I noticed foreshadowing/thematic words peppered throughout. Pleasant enough to read at first, their weight and importance doesn't become known until the ending opens up beneath you. Escoria's softly thematic words are used so skillfully that her stories demand/necessitate a second reading. Envy's "Here Is a Ghost Story" is a prime example of a story that thematically and choice-of-diction-ly employs an elliptical structure. Little bits from here and there throughout the story are recycled in the story's dream ending. I liked that while the dead fiance is dead, she is not really dead; in the mind of the narrator, she still lives and breathes and taunts.
After Pilsen and aboard a Brown Line for Paulina, I quickly read the last story, "Trouble and Troubledness," which Escoria had read the night before. I liked it even more while reading it because I was familiar with the story. I took out my pen to bracket and star a paragraph that I remembered very clearly from the night before; the paragraph where the narrator bites down on the plastic head of a razor to get the blade out and then cuts her arm quite deeply. I also remembered/loved the parts where a boyfriend chases her around the house with a knife and the part where she really gets into crop circles and aliens. I remembered loving the final lines of VII, so I underlined them: "sometimes you just want to make something on yourself that will never go away, something you shaped, something that will be there forever: a sign for someone else to find." Another thing I liked about this story was that it is a perfect story to end with; for, while the narrator is telling us her dark past, she scatters hints that she is better now and stronger and free of addictions, which ultimately gives this story, and the book, a happy ending of sorts, which I find is fitting for the book as a whole.
There are bad places and dark themes in Juliet Escoria's BLACK CLOUD, but there are also glimmers of hope, of happiness, of redemption. Often they are presented in such offhand ways that the silver lining for the characters in this book can be easily overlooked. But those silver linings are there, provided sometimes as beautiful insights spun off almost as afterthoughts amidst the heartbreak and broken lives of the characters. Juliet Escoria's BLACK CLOUD, while available for free as videos online, is, as a physical book, absolutely worth it; it is worth reading, worth sharing with others, worth your time and money and deeply invested attention.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"3 poems" posted by Tiny Toe Press/The Open End

The good folks over at Tiny Toe Press/The Open End published/posted 3 of my poems:
1. And so what if you receive attention?
2. thank you
3. Do not speak as though this were of no consequence

I am grateful and thankful to herocious for this kind posting. Be sure to check out the rest of their website and buy some of their handmade books.

PT Cruiser USA gets Poetic and Personal with "Cruisin to the Finish Line: Ambitions of a Rider"

PT Cruiser USA's second book, "Cruisin to the Finish Line: Ambitions of a Rider," is a confrontational-seeming show-and-tell of the open stream-of-conscious storytelling that is the mind of an automobile with a Twitter account. While PT Cruiser USA's first book, "Cruisin to the Finish Line: Speed Secrets," was an exciting, hilarious romp detailing the car's self-made celebrity, her sophomore effort backs things up a bit. In many ways, the clean-cut "Speed Secrets" was the journey of how PT Cruiser USA came to be who she is today: the Top Car On Twitter with a formidable fan base. The follow up reveals a more intimate view of the car's life. "Ambitions of a Rider" reads rather like the observations, reflections, and rants of an ever-aware young car-person. While "Speed Secrets" reads like prose blog posts, "Ambitions of a Rider" is much more like poetry, given the book's Twitter feed-like style and structure.

PT Cruiser USA's avowed belief in ghosts is attested to in the chapters "spanish ghost" and "ghost hit & run," both of which detail two separate hauntings. "bathroom," "cd gym class," and other chapters recount creepy or spooky instances or coincidences from the car's life. A recurrent motif throughout "Ambitions of a Rider" is the retelling of her past in high school. PT Cruiser USA shares awkward exchanges and interesting yarns in six of these chapters. In "Nutella," PT Cruiser USA shares a hilarious story of how she lucked into acquiring 4 large jars of the chocolaty paste and "parking space" shows the car fighting tyrannical, high school authority.

A second and more prevalent motif/theme throughout "Ambitions of a Rider" is PT Cruiser USA's fascination and occasional interaction with R&B culture and it's singer/songwriters. As a car who exclusively watches VH1 Soul, there are many observations, thoughts, and opinions expressed on the culture of and big names in the modern R&B world. In "kayne west" and "robin thicke," the car rants and reveals her insights on the musical careers and personal lives of the two performers. "keyshia cole pt. 2" sees the continuation of the vendetta between that tacky singer and our beloved Top Car On Twitter. The final chapter in the book, "brandy," is an interesting combination of the car's spooky coincidences, her R&B preferences, and (college) classroom antics.

Personally, i was pleased to see the addition of "body party," a recurrent livetweeting event that occurs in the car's Twitter feed whenever she happens to watch the music video for Ciara's "Body Party" on VH1 Soul. She repeats the same lines each and every time, and if she is watching VH1 Soul for several hours, these repeated tweets may happen several times throughout the day. Continuing events, such as livetweeting the "Body Party" music video, have contributed to PT Cruiser USA's internet status and celebrity. In keeping with the poetry/Twitter feed-like style of the book, the inclusion of "body party" was, i thought, appropriate and hilarious. Another chapter i loved was "white people." As a white person, i know how obnoxious white people can be. (In truth, i like using the words "bougie" or "faggy" to describe very white-acting persons, depending on whether he/she is acting like a rich snob or a fragile flower, respectively.) So reading PT Cruiser USA's list poem of stereotypical white person sayings and actions was hilarious, and a truthful representation of white people who express themselves online.

The only piece that seemed unnecessary was "list of hot guys thoroughly explained." This list had already been used in "Speed Secrets," so to include the chapter again was trying to the reader's patience. Yet, even this chapter is redeemed somewhat by the fact that the reasons given for finding these men "hot" helps to reveal PT Cruiser USA's inherently interesting personality. Another, better chapter that reveals insights into the mind of the Top Car On Twitter was "things i like." This chapter has entries such as animals, boys, and livetweeting, and many of these entries are given their own chapters throughout the book, making "Ambitions of a Rider" a more interconnected whole than it at first seems to be. The last thing that the car likes, however, is "being me." And for good reason: PT Cruiser USA is a unique individual, one worthy of following/watching/hearing. Her personality and her life is revealed to us in her books, her blog posts, and her Twitter feed. She is certainly worth following and watching, given her reflective, personal stories and her hilarious, no-punches-pulled internet presence.