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51h6MXJbAjL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_On its face, minimalism might seem like an ironic term for fiction—one more suited to architecture or interior design—but in describing the style of writing that still dominates many MFA programs, it’s entirely fitting. Featuring spare prose and terse descriptions of the everyday this is the manner of literary writing most easily taught, most simply reduced to a matter of craft. Often purposefully lacking in plot and story—and stripped mercilessly of personality—minimalism in its most realistic form can become a study not in nonfiction but in a sort of antifiction, work that may qualify as literary in ambition, but not effect. Unable to animate the seemingly realistic world it has created, minimalism often fails the most basic of literary tests. Like a song sung to perfect pitch, but without passion, minimalistic fiction can want for soul. It can lack magic.

lobster“My father was killed in Lubech!”

“Lubech—Lubech, that’s all you’ve been saying—Lubech,” Mother said.

True, Father did say “Lubech, Lubech” a lot on this trip. It sounded like “love” and “burning” at the same time. Kuzya and Lubasha loved playing “words.”

“In 1943, he was killed! It’s 1986! I just don’t see why I need to spend my May holidays this year bumping along these terrible roads, breaking the engine, being carsick, driving through snow and then dust and heat and running chickens and bugs—”

That was true, too. All kinds of bugs—mosquitoes, flies, some rare bugs Kuzya had never seen in Moscow.

mark polanzakOn the cover of the book POP! there are a bunch of scratched-out tags: A fictional Memoir, A fabulist Memoir, A Nonfictional Novel. A Novel. A Memoir. And then it says that it is just “A Book.” Why?

The heady reasons: I am absolutely fascinated by the mixing-up of genres. Life is not composed of nonfiction, of facts, of consistency, of predictions and correlations, of accurate memories. Life is made up of dreaming, of living in our heads, of imagining things that haven’t happened or we wish could happen, of thinking about people wrong, of creating stories and lies that we live by, of misremembering things, of finding out our assessments were fraudulent, of inventing fiction upon fiction in our ambitions, relationships, romances, careers, passions, hopes. Our real lives are as composed of fictions as they are of actual objective events. So, it makes no sense to me to put a label of “nonfiction” on something about our real lives. And, then oddly, reversely, crazily, in fiction, we try to tell the truth, when our everyday lives are more dreamt than lived. I see so much of life as parts of a developing fiction. It’s perhaps, for me, a protective device (see: my book all about making up fiction in order to process an unexpected catastrophe).

PROLOGUE TWO                   POP!_Cover

PORCELAIN GOD

The dudes who remodeled my mom’s master bathroom forgot to take away the old pink toilet. So there it stood, in the middle of our front yard—a constant amidst the turning, falling leaves of autumn.

We figured they’d be back for it, the toilet. After a week or so of rousing suspicion among the other residents of Green Street, the unspoken realization hit us: that pink throne was our problem now.

One crisp November afternoon, my mom and brother and I all found ourselves standing around the thing with steaming cups of coffee in our hands. My mug had a chip and read: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

“How heavy is it?” My brother tried his best to surmise the toilet’s heft with his mind then tilted it with his free hand.

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

Photo credited to Michael Everett Crawford

 

What is the best advice your mother ever gave you?

No one will ever remember how clean I kept my toilets; use your time for something else.

I. Alive in Naked Earth

Holding shovel is a boy—not boy so much as a body growing.
How his skin—patch of ground—is like a bed. What can’t be
sown in youth? Clean well mouth—spring of throat. New. My

skin’s a stained sheet tied to a dry-line. I’ve asked him, to fold &
bury me? He’ll do as instructed. Spade corner to garden corner.
Hands of earth against my mouth—there was a time I believed

in the all consuming. I want to believe again. Holding a shovel,
is a boy. Buried alive, I reclaim something:
                                            remember when love smelled like rain?

preggers no

 

Chapter 1  – “The end.”

When I—we—struggled to get pregnant, and I’d read a story about infertility, I’d skip to the end to find out how an individual or couple resolved their infertility. If you want to skip to the end, then yes, I got pregnant. I had a baby who is now a happy, healthy, bright one-year-old. It took three years, and it was super fucking hard.

 

Chapter 2 – “We can’t make a baby, but we can make our own language.”

A brief set of terms you’ll find in this essay:

IF – Infertility

Infertility is known as IF in online support lingo. (Can we send that back to committee? Of all acronyms, is this the best we can do?)

RE – Reproductive Endocrinologist

Fertility doctors make a shit ton of money.

TSH – Thyroid Stimulating Hormone

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped thing in your throat that controls multiple functions in your body and if it’s off in the slightest, your body is fucked.

Kim Brooks PhotoSo what should people know about you, Kim Brooks?

That’s really hard. What should they know about me? … Wait, why should they know about me?

 

Because you wrote a book. You want people to read that book. And people these days are interested in knowing about the people who write their books. It’s a spiritual value added tax.

Ah, okay. I see. Um, I’m a genius.

599105446454460d9c53a7721746d9af_xe8j5tIt was a typical, two-story frame house, the kind of colonial one saw all across the Corn Hill section of Utica, a small white house with a green roof, green shutters, a green door, a wide front porch with a swing and a couple of white rocking chairs and a view onto the street, the goings-on of the neighborhood. When Max imagined, as he occasionally did, what it might be like to have a family of his own, he saw them in such a house, on such a porch, in such a swing. Leading up to it was a walkway of gray paved stones lined by hedges. The hedges were expertly trimmed, never overgrown, curving gently into the front yard in which Irene and Abe had long-ago planted a peach tree that now towered almost to the second story windows and dropped its soft fruit onto the porch every July. The fruit never rotted there or went to waste. Irene swept it up into her apron, ushered it into her kitchen with its white counter tops scoured daily, covered in matching canister sets, its drawers full of egg whiskers and potatoes mashers, a cozy breakfast nook in the corner and coffee percolating besides the stove. It was a house with everything a man could want or ask for, a house with not just the basics a person needed to survive —heat, plumbing, a roof to block out the elements— but all the small comforts that made it a place that drew a person in, invited him back. Max looked up at the Auer home, at the sun hammering at the windows, the peach tree swaying lightly in the breeze, the white nubs of a dogwood overhanging the porch like little bells. And on the porch, the person who brought it all into being, a beautiful brunette planting flowers in a window box. Abe Auer had come to this country with nothing; now he had all this. Yet still he worried. Max stood a moment, dizzy in the drinkable summer air, trying to make the disjointed ends meet, and then he remembered why he’d come, that it wasn’t his job to solve all the human mysteries of the world. He stepped forward, waved hello to Irene Auer.

Pool Boy

By Tatiana Ryckman

Essay

pool boy1

I knew I would soon be seeing my family because of an illness, or maybe worse. I distracted myself by wondering what sports were in season. Deflected my frustration by watching some physical display of strength.

That same day I was due to see my family, I was yelled at by a man at the gym when I tried to learn how to share a lane in the pool. I don’t use the word “yell” lightly here, but literally. The scolding dragged on for some very uncomfortable minutes with a small audience. It reminded me of the people I was traveling across the country to see, my uncle had already worried to my father and aunt that I’d be in the way at my grandfather’s hospital bed. Like a child or an idiot. I was not feeling sad for the loss of a patriarch. I assumed the sadness would come later with understanding.

IMG_3561Opening Hijinks

Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors, Andy!

Stop it.

 

Really? I thought debilitating self-consciousness was your thing.

Not anymore. I’m way past that.

ContraryMotioncover9780812998283Late Saturday morning—a warm day with an armada of big white clouds overhead—Audrey and I head up to a wedding I’m playing in Glenview. I can’t afford to turn down a gig and I can’t afford to give up one of my days with her, so I sometimes impress her into service as my roadie. Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem to mind, maybe because she gets to wear her frilly white dress with the green sash and her shiny Mary Janes, or maybe because she gets a roadie’s prestige without having to perform any of a roadie’s tasks.

Today, for example, she’s only carrying her stuffed unicorn that had its electronic guts removed one grim day, just before I was asked to leave the Rogers Park apartment, when Milena apparently heard the unicorn’s song one time too many. Now, rolling my 85P harp up a broad concrete walkway to the church entrance, with Audrey and her mute unicorn in tow, I can’t help but feel we’re a pair of refugees from the land of nuclear families, making a bid for repatriation.

Matt-1Your first book, Vellum, was a poetry collection. Why the shift to essays with your new collection A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape?

A couple of years back, I wrote a poem about the Trinity Site—where the first nuclear bomb was tested—but the piece never felt as if I’d adequately addressed either the history or issues linked to the place. Trinity is just a few hours drive from me, and, years after my failed poem, I subsequently visited during one of their Open House days. I came home rattled and stewing, and with a notebook teeming with details and questions I had jotted down. When I started putting the notes down on the page, I pretty quickly realized that a poem just wouldn’t serve me as a vessel, given everything that I now wanted to fit in. It was liberating and exhilarating to not worry so much about line breaks and compression in the same way, and instead make use of the place’s history and what I encountered during the visit. It was a much wider field of play, and writing that piece ended up whetting my appetite for how I might be able to make use of lyric prose within the essay form.

House of the Large Fountain

Here, not much remains. Among other things, there are a few sheared-off pillars and some grass-covered stairs, a pebble-strewn atrium, four marble thresholds of four bricked-up rooms, some nettles and a bowing brick arch. Yet the back garden’s eye-snaring fountain is still fully intact, with its patterns of stones and glass and shells, its mosaics of wing-spread birds and half-moon bands and a baffled looking river god with a scraggly beard of reeds, and its two stone-carved faces – a mask of Tragedy, a lion-hooded Hercules – gap-mouthed and flanking the sides.

 

It’s so good to get a chance to talk to you about your first book of poems, Trouble the Water. So I wanna try something a bit different. I’m not that interested in asking the usual questions and just talking about writing. Let’s talk about your influences outside of literature as a way to frame the conversation.

Yes! Thank God. Haha.