Author: Luis Silva

An Interview w/ Laura Marie Marciano & Monica McClure of Gemstone Readings

Since February, Gemstone Readings has become known for hosting events featuring writers such as Bunny Rogers, Mike Bushnell, Lucy K Shaw, and Cassandra Gillig. Last Friday, they had a media launch for their new website and poetry videos featuring the work of Kate Durbin, Natalie Chin, and Stacey Teague. Below are some questions I sent to Laura Marie Marciano and Monica McClure about the work they are doing at Gemstone and about the video reading of McClure’s poem “Petocha”.

When did you first conceive of the idea for Gemstone Readings? What was the inspiration for starting it?

Laura Marie Marciano: I guess that is a hard question to answer.

I think I was feeling a sense of frustration with the types of readings that were happening—they seemed to be lacking some kind of magic and inclusion.  It was the same thing and the same people and the same venue.  It was winter and it was real cold. I was thinking about the Olympics since they were about to start. I thought we needed some mystical sort of reading to happen so that people would feel alive again. So I organized this “Reading for Oksana”, (the Ukrainian figure skater from the 90s) to be held in the basement of Unnameable Books around the themes of cold hearts and sadness. And I had Bunny Rogers sing. And the heat wasn’t working so people had their coats on. And Ben Fama read. And it just made sense.

Then I wanted to keep going. And I wanted to make sure more people were included that hadn’t been before, specifically female identified. And I wanted to bring in my background of performance art and media art. I sort of wanted it to be like the Babysitters Club only for poetry—if that makes sense. So it was always there, I guess, and then it happened.

Monica McClure: I came to know of Gemstones when Laura created the “Last Petal On A Dying Rose” (as I think it was also called) reading for Bunny. I’d been thinking about Bunny’s Sister Unn installation for this essay I was writing about immortality online. Eternal love and longing encapsulated in digital icons played a part in my thinking about it. My partner, Ben Fama, read as well. I remember liking the 90’s kitsch of Oksana. For me, the Olympics will always be Oksana, Tanya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the Magnificent Seven US Gymnastics team. Everyone on the reading was young. It’s important to stay in tune with what young people are doing. Laura’s poems felt very kindred to my poems in Mood Swing. They were investigating a vexed femininity, both fabulated and actually experienced.

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Lucy K Shaw & Bessie Smith

Fuck, I love jazz. I think all my writing has been an attempt at doing something worthy of it. Something like what Cortázar does in Hopscotch. That’s one of those books that was so eerie to read because it was doing exactly what I had been thinking of doing. I mean, he even writes that he’s attempting to “capture jazz in prose.” And somehow it is inspiring that I’ve hit upon the same feeling and intimidating that it has already been done and hopeful that I might have a better way of doing it. But why haven’t I done it already. I read that book in April 2013. There is an entry in one of my notebooks from January 2012 about Blue in Green. Everything I write is about Blue in Green. Evans interrupted by Miles, 19 seconds in. This was only supposed to be one sentence. There is a recording of Ella Fitzgerald that I think is the most beautiful thing in the world. I’m so depressed right now. She scats, it don’t mean a thing. There’s a miscue in it where she either starts too early or the band does but she’s still divine and I love her. There is a recording of Armstrong where he gives us our voice for the 20th century. You can hear it in these two voices. I listen to jazz because I’m miserable. The muted trumpets in The Mooche. Listen to how they waver. On Black and Tan Fantasy. You can picture the heat, right? And what about Creole Love Call? And have you heard Armstrong and Ellington together? It’s great, but maybe a little too good of a recording, too clear. I love watching Louis in the beginning of Dinah holding his trumpet at his knees and waving it almost like a conductor, the f’n showmanship on that guy. His lip once fell off. Maybe, I don’t know. It may just be a metaphor. It may have just split open. I can’t bleed for my art. I’m too scared. I met someone recently who seems to be doing just that. The strength she has amazes me. I don’t think I can do that. Leaving this as a block of text because I know no one reads those.

Hidden Door Theory on Pynchon, Bolaño, etc.

the-crying-of-lot-49-cover

A lot of writers tease the reader with a hidden door. Pynchon does this in The Crying of Lot 49. Wallace does it with Infinite Jest. Bolaño in 2666. And Stephen King in The Dark Tower.

They spend a whole book describing it. They build a history of the eternal search for it. The reader is immersed in the lives of its detectives. He reads about each journey ending in failure after failure after failure but still believes that the author will live up to a certain promise.

He is finally taken right up to the door. He is even allowed to touch it, to turn the knob that leads to the meaning of life, the purpose of everything, and maybe even god himself. But the door is locked, leads nowhere, or vanishes completely.

The reader finishes the book disappointed. He calls the book anti-climactic, like a fool, because he wasn’t paying attention. There was never any deception pulled or promise made. The writer kept telling him that this was a book of dead ends. But the reader hates it because he’s been reading the wrong book.

Or even worse he loves it because he still believes it to be that same book promising the revelation of a cosmic secret. He reads it again and again looking for all the hidden clues that will finally open the door this time around. He convinces himself that the book is a cipher and all he needs is the right key to decode it.

But the true reader knows from the beginning that the author is only a man like himself who is befuddled by the same eternal questions. He knows that life and death are false doors and nothing lies beyond either end. The true reader knows the purpose is to acquiesce to living in the dead ends. He knows that the epic novels of Melville, Kafka, and DeLillo attempt an ordering of reality only so they can confront our mortal inability to ever understand the chaos.

Bellow’s Shame

Hemingway once said that a true autobiography was impossible because every author left out the embarrassments of his life. The overwhelming truth of this statement separates Saul Bellow’s Herzog as a unique work in American literature. It is a book based on the aftermath of a decade in which Bellow’s second wife carried on an affair with his best friend, a betrayal known to everyone but himself. Bellow details in Herzog how we deal with shame–attacking everything we’ve ever known, every person that has ever wronged us, all those connected to them however tangentially, society itself and its values, all our dearest held beliefs, and our own character most of all.

Prose Influence

Barthelme, Pynchon, DeLillo, Nabokov, West, and Bellow are my models for the ideal prose. They write with a playful irreverence. Their prose can explode into long sentences of baroque language, but they can also reach the same depths in a short order of simple words. Their style isn’t based on esoteric vocabulary but on a strategy of word choice that finds the perfect complement of meaning, sound, rhythm, and aesthetic appearance on the page. It’s a coherence of style that you can trace through sentence, paragraph, chapter, and book.

What is postmodernism?

In the postmodern novel, truth is nonexistent–or at least unknowable. Genre rules are playthings, adhered to with zealous abandon or thrown away in fits of madness. Low art rises above high art because their products and images contain more meaning, more power and destruction with every swing, because mainstream society has a stronger familiarity with new genres than with classical forms. Above all, there is a self-awareness that never let’s the reader forget that he is being manipulated, that story is an artifice.

Review: Varamo by César Aira

varamo

Varamo reconstructs the events that lead a lowly civil servant in the city of Cólon to the creation of a cultural masterpiece. It is an academic detective story about the search for the origin of artistic inspiration, reminiscent of the Borgesian trick of turning literary theory into the mechanics of a plot.

Aira presents this novel as a scholarly essay written as a fictional narrative. The narration even muses on its own use of the free indirect style, a technique that allows the reader into the consciousness of the artist—our main character—thus baring witness to the creative process as it occurs in the mind. An impossible accessibility that our narrator explains is possible because of the vastness of the resulting masterpiece. An epic poem so encompassing of the artist’s time and place that it even captures the moments of its own creation.

The novel begins at the end of a workday, as Varamo picks up his weekly pay from the government and discovers that the bills are counterfeit. This is an incident that is indicative of the deteriorating state of the country, which at that moment, selects him for solitary persecution.  The resulting chain of events is then composed of the routinely insignificant agonies of this meek individual lost among the masses. In these crowds he meets the strange characters that make their home in the chaos of the city, roaming the margins of the greater political movements, where they play the roles of distant spectators, ignored commentators, and occasionally as bit players in the larger drama.

It is within these lives that Varamo, who has never “written or felt any inclination to write a single line of poetry,” finds the motivation and material to build a voice for himself and others of his kind, shaping their anonymous suffering into epic form. But Cesar Aira hasn’t given us the text of this landmark poem. In its absence he seems to be asking us whether we want the mythic epic poem or the intimate meta novel? Which gets closer to the truth of our lives? Is any form really ever able to capture the complexity of our minds and the vastness of our stage? Is it necessary to choose one over the other?