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i hate the internet covertrigger warning:

Capitalism, the awful stench of men, historical anachronisms, death threats, violence, human bondage, faddish popular culture, despair, unrestrained mockery of the rich, threats of sexual violation, weak iterations of Epicurean thought, the comic book industry, the death of intellectualism, being a woman in a society that hates women, populism, an appalling double entendre, the sex life of Thomas Jefferson, genocide, celebrity, the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, discussions of race, Science Fiction, anarchism with a weakness for democracy, the people who go to California to die, millennial posturing, 276 pages of mansplaining, Neo-Hellenic Paganism, interracial marriage, elaborately named hippies practicing animal cruelty on goats, unjust wars in the Middle East, 9/11, seeing the Facebook profile of someone you knew when you were young and believed that everyone would lead rewarding lives.

  

She asks if you want to sing a song and you move next to her on the bench and you sing for her as she plays for you.

            – from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Erato / Love Poetry”

 

Tell me again to

seize the day, etch it

in cursive along my spine

purple ink and a lotus

mandala curved like a vine;

carpe, say, everything will be

groovy, everything will

Kristopher Jansma credit Michael LevyKris, now that I have you here, can I ask what exactly this book of ours is about?

This “book of ours” as you put it, is a novel called Why We Came to the City, and it is about five friends living in New York City, struggling with their big dreams and small mortalities in the face of overwhelming odds.

 

That sounds like something that I could really identify with.

Is that a joke?

Cover_Why We Came to the CityWilliam Cho never ceased to be amazed. Here he was in the penthouse of one of the most luxurious hotels in Manhattan, in the midst of a great spiral of artists and patrons. Strange accents buzzed past his ears. A Persian woman passed by with owl feathers braided into her hair. There was snow blowing around out on the balcony, and beyond it more snow was falling a hundred stories to the streets. A Somali man by the window gestured wildly, his platinum watchband glinting in a spotlight. Diamonds ringed the neck of a white girl on the bathroom line, who couldn’t be older than twenty. She and a Brazilian boy of about the same age studied a twisting glass sculpture that reminded William of a tidal wave, frozen solid. And here he was among them, feeling strangely rich by association, not least because he was standing there talking to—being talked to, really—by Sara Sherman, of all people.

Maggie KastWhy did you want to write about the 1930s? It wasn’t exactly a great time.

It was the worst and the best. People were out of work and poor, but rallying and organizing for change. Lynch mobs threatened black people, but black and white marched together in protest for the first time since legal segregation was enacted in the South. Gay people, labeled “inverts,” were closeted and threatened with violence, but “pansy clubs” proliferated in the cities, a new one springing up every time the Vice Squad closed one down.

A Free, Unsullied Land CoverSweaty in the hot summer of ’27. An execution is imminent, and the family has been dreading it for years. Henriette wakes to the sound of feet hurrying along the hall outside her second-floor bedroom, then down the stairs and back up again. A thin, keening sound. Coughs and sobs. It’s her older brother Carl, plagued by a nightmare.

Henriette was eight in 1920 when Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fishmonger, were convicted of robbery and murder in South Braintree, Massachusetts, and she’s grown up with this wound to her sense of hope and possibility. Wisps of adult conversation drifting above her head taught her the story. Now she lies rigid in her bed, as though her stillness could stop time, standing by while others face what may already have become disaster.

Rutecki_Sensory lens_Fig 3

My father and I are both introverts. We have blue eyes and the terrible habit of smirking when other people say stupid things. We were both chain smokers well into our 30s, both managed to quit.

My father lives far away from me in a city in Southern Thailand that’s famous for its Dim Sum, but he prefers to eat at Dairy Queen.

He reads William Carlos Williams, likes to scuba dive.

When he was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young adult, doctors blamed my grandmother for bad parenting.

The myth of the “schizophrenogenic mother”—a mom who is at once cold and anxious—got its start in the 1930s when researchers observed a few cases of maternal rejection and more cases of overprotection among mothers whose kids struggled with schizophrenia. The theory that mothering styles can cause schizophrenia has long-since been debunked, but if my kids ever develop symptoms, there’s no denying it will be my genes they got it from.

Schizophrenia affects one percent of the general population worldwide—making it twice as common as Alzheimer’s and three times as common as insulin-dependent diabetes. But in my family, we’ve got a 10 percent chance of experiencing the world in this taboo way.

 

Do you think you have special talents or supernatural gifts?

Pick one:

Not at all

Just a little

Quite a lot

All the time

 

When I was growing up, my father made stream-of-consciousness experimental animations in my grandparents’ basement apartment and wandered the streets of the Monterey Peninsula wearing a Louis the XIV wig and playing his trumpet.

He never got much treatment that I know of. When I asked him about it once, he said his doctor told him, “That one’s incurable. You’re just cuckoo.” He shrugged and didn’t say anything else for the rest of the night.

We watched strangers sing Karaoke.

dear-petrov-cover-1I hesitate to call Susan Tepper’s dear Petrov (Pure Slush Books) a novel; if anything it reaches closest to that magical, ethereal and mysterious realm we call poetry, though I also hesitate to call the sixty-four connected, half-page pieces poems, for taken altogether, they construct a beautiful whole that can very well be a novel. And yet…I hesitate…yes, now I’m repeating, having thoroughly locked myself into a savagely incoherent loop. This is so mostly because this book defies a label, and any fool (like this one) who undertakes the futile task of reviewing Tepper’s offering will be left verbally challenged—doomed to spin his wheels in perpetuity, trapped in a circle of babbling nonsense as witnessed above. The closest we can come to pegging down dear Petrov is “a work of art.”

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Answers to Interview Questions about The Unfinished World,

Taken from Yelp Reviews of Famous Museums around the World

 

Why should people read your book?

“It’s pretty interesting and is not a long-winded affair…Many people enjoy lunch here and it’s open to the public. Truly amazing and massive collection of mammals, historic artifacts, dinosaurs, etc… Dedicated to both ecclesiastical and secular topics.”

 

How long did it take you to write the book?

“After I got my ticket, I didn’t waste much time, started to explore. I could have spent weeks here. But I got it done in a day, though we rushed through a lot of it.”

51IKDORqGrL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Curiosity #84: Aztec volcanic rock sculpture, circa fifteenth century A.D., probably made for the temple of Tenochtitlan. An example of a traditional demon princess, or Cihuateteo, who escorts the sun from the underworld each morning, she wears a simple skirt, breasts bared, hair long and over her shoulders.

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The truth about Set is the truth about all ghosts: there is a weightlessness that keeps them fluttering, light as leaves—and in turn they are drawn down to instability, to the volatile, to cracks that open and can split whole mountains. To the volcanoes. Specifically, in Set’s case, to Lana Volcana.

That wasn’t her real name, of course, or even her screen name. But it was what they all called her after her breakout picture, Vera and the Volcano—a two-reeler about an island girl that sent her star up and up. LANA VOLCANA! the picture magazines screeched, with accompanying photographs of a dark-haired vamp in a grass skirt and clamshell top. The IT GIRL, the papers called her, a new kind of girl for these daring times. Filmstar Rag said she was the girl you don’t bring home to mama.

poetry insurance for TNB

Rachel Cantor - high-res - photo credit Bennett BeckensteinWhat’s your book about?

It’s about Shira, a translator who doesn’t translate because she doesn’t quite believe that it’s possible to bring words from one language to another. Instead, she temps as a filing clerk and dogsbody, usually in the boroughs. When she gets a call from Romei, a Nobel Prize-winning poet who asks her to translate his latest work, she’s stunned. He offers a plausible explanation for his choice, she agrees, and ecstatically envisions new life for herself and seven-year-old daughter Andi. But as Romei begins faxing her sections of his work, we, and eventually she, begin to realize that Romei has another agenda, one that involves Shira personally.

 

Sounds like you’ve kind of memorized that pitch.

I have, rather.

Good on Paper 300dpiPronto! Pronto! Hello!

A man with a Hollywood pizza-guy accent introduced himself.

It was Romei, or so he said in a passable imitation of Romei’s voice, known to me and everyone in America from his cameo on Seinfeld, where he played a poet who may or may not have stolen Jerry’s cigar (allowing Romei to say,Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar).

Do you know what time it is? I asked blearily, though in fact it was only seven.

You are Shira Greene, yes? The translator? This is Romei!

I swear he said it with a flourish.

Your joke isn’t funny, whoever you are. Go away, I said, and hung up the phone.

He called again.

saturn devouring his son

There are seventy-nine minutes left in the day. I am clinging to consciousness as I write, half drunk, half sleepy. At least it’s almost over, my birthday that is. I didn’t have an official cake, so let this be the proverbial frosting, the telling of my forty-first birthday. I’ll tell it in one long unedited inhalation, the opposite of blowing out candles, that morbid ritual of extinguishing light with one’s breath, but not before making a final wish, followed by a gasp, and then an emptying of your lungs resulting in darkness. Blowing out birthday candles (tiny flames symbolizing each year of your even tinier existence) is a metaphor for death, right up there with a raven shitting on the Grim Reaper’s hoodie. There’s some luck in that, just as there’s luck in surviving another year. There’s also humor, but mostly the kind that laughs at you, which is fine by me. I have zero delusions of grandeur. I entered the world hysterical and naked, and I intend on dying like that too.

Wil Gibson by Vanessa Vrtiak

 

You have a book out with Great Weather for MEDIA, tell me about it.

I am very proud of this book. It is a memoir of sorts. Mostly stories and poems about my childhood and growing up poor, but also stories and poems about my life into adulthood. Dealing with addiction, dealing with epilepsy, dealing with the death of loved ones, remembering the path that got me here. Really though, I say fuck a lot and I try not to say too many dumb things.