Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: Light Boxes by Shane Jones

Title: Light Boxes
Author: Shane Jones
Publisher: Publishing Genius Press
Pages: 172
ISBN: 982081316
How I Heard About It: Jessa Crispin's interview with Shane Jones at Bookslut.
Two Sentence Summary: A small town is driven to despair and desperate measures by acts of malevolent schemer, February, who steals flight and warmth and children.  Thaddeus Lowe struggles alongside balloonists and beloved(s) to encourage the return of Spring.

Things I Think: This short, surrealist book reads like a collection of poetry, comprised of brief (often page-long) titled pieces that shift perspective from character to character.  (So of course, I was immediately interested.  Such a choice also means the book is a pretty quick read.)  Experimentation with type-setting and pagination works synchronously with the narrative.  The author's use of symbolism (recurring visions of "flight" appear as owls, kites, balloons, teeth, to name a few)  gives Light Boxes the feel of a grand mythology - a new brothers Grimm story set on shifting terrain, a fairy tale of every-time, every-place, every-worry.

Light Boxes has been accused of 'kitschy' melancholy by some, but I feel this negative summation ignores the beautiful work Jones does at the line level.  Yes, I'm reading not as prose, but poetry, and I think such a distinction re-frames Light Boxes in a pertinent way.  My experience was that of peering into a dollhouse, less concerned with the large-scale architecture than the individual, delicate trappings carefully placed in each room.  While I sense that Jones' design could use a bit of a re-org in places, his writerly gestures are ultimately quiet, focused, poignant.

For more thoughts, check out the beautiful review from The Rumpus or this less conventional write-up at Urban Elitest.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mailbox Magic: "Damascus" and Mary Kay

My mailbox, tiny though it may be, has been a pretty happening place lately.  The delight of finding a padded surprise-filled mailer, particular when unexpected, is incomparable.

Exhibit A: Care Package from Meghan

Meghan Flannery is one of the most extraordinary humans I have the pleasure of knowing.  We've been adventuring together for the last ten years, and though frequently distanced (Meghan and her brilliant husband recently moved to Brooklyn), the good times have not been staunched.  This talented crafter, chef, music afficionado, sexy librarian (I could keep going) has sent me some of the best care packages a girl could ask for.  When I was living in England, she sent me American peanut butter, mac 'n cheese, and Ranch dressing - staples of my diet that she knew I couldn't access.  Treasure trove, I say!

Here's what I found in my mailbox most recently:

An eyeliner fiend's true love.
Meghan is my Mary Kay rep (read: dealer) and sent me some serious love.  Black eyeliner being ever a part of my personage, she hooked me up with the above-pictured accoutrements: onyx black mascara and this bubbly pink eye-makeup remover. It's pretty much the best ever.  My eyes have been reveling in the glory for days.  Her site is up and running, and she's got free shipping. I'm in big trouble (and so are you.)

Exhibit B: "Damascus" by Josh Mohr

Thanks to a giveaway on my favorite local lit blog, The Rumpus, I got the hook-up on a copy of Josh Mohr's latest book, "Damascus."  Reasons to love this book: It's set in my neighborhood, the book is beautifully designed, and Josh is an alum-turned-prof at my recent alma mater, USF.  He's excellent, his prose is gritty and wicked, and his publisher sent this delicious new book straight to the welcoming silver walls of my mailbox. Nothing left to be desired here, folks.

And now, having already been spoiled rotten, I'm off to dinner at Bushi-Tei with my dining companion and other half, Myla K. Tutt. Knocking on wood, but life is pretty damn good. Hope you are all having a cozy weekend.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

A gorgeous book from fellow Californian Aimee Bender, "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" was an unexpected delight.  This being my first experience with Bender's work, I was immediately surprised and won over by the streamlined prose and momentary flowerings of poetic diction.

“Mom loved my brother more. Not that she didn't love me - I felt the wash of her love every day, pouring over me, but it was a different kind, siphoned from a different, and tamer, body of water. I was her darling daughter; Joseph was her it.”

Bender's novel opens with protagonist Rose Edelstein's discovery that food will never be the same.  Sampling a trial-run birthday cake made by her mother, Rose is overcome with a flood of complex and unpleasant emotions - her mother's.  After days of distress and a series of experiments with George, her brother's charming best friend, Rose learns that her skill extends beyond the realm of her mother's cooking.  Able to uncover the hidden longings of a baker, or the poignant "first love" flutterings felt by a sous chef, she turns more and more to "factory" food to escape the onslaught of information each bite introduces. 

“...a Dorito asks nothing of you, which is its great gift. It only asks that you are not there.” 
The reader tracks Rose from age nine to early twenties, a journey rife with humor, nostalgia, and deep-seated pain.  Unable to vocalize the nature of her gift for most of her life, Rose copes with the barrage of secrets she is forced to swallow, often in isolation.  Bender's portrayals of family, of favoritism and heartbreak, of a sneakily disintegrating marriage, are pitch-perfect in their quietude.  What is seen through the eyes (and tastebuds) of the youthful narrator is what the reader is allowed to access, and nothing more.  This lack of omniscience stemming from point of view, coupled with the progratonist's special talent, results in a multidimensional, resonant narrative that is haunting and magical.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hitting the Road

I never thought I would say this. I have started running, an activity that I have spent years of my life terrified to do. Thanks to my dear friend Chris, an epic marathon man and all-around athlete, I've found a shiny new outlet for all of this post-MFA energy.

My Running Gear
All geared up and ready to go!

Yesterday marked my first run in a very long time.  (We're talking years.)  I hit Holly Park in Bernal Hill and did just a smidge over a mile.  Thanks to a sweet app called RunKeeper, I've got a great way to keep track of my times, distances, and trails.  (The math of this keeps me intellectually motivated in a way I hadn't anticipated.)

And you know what? As totally freaked out as I was to start running (I'm a poet, not an athlete, people!), and as much as my lungs felt like a burning pit of doom, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  (Yup. Still pretty shocked.) I'm trying a trail in Foster City after work today and hopefully will get a little more distance in this time around.

Here's to getting speedy!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Literary Lust: Confessions of a Book Glutton

After reading Leyna's biblio-confessions over at the Bark, in which she readily admits to having once licked a book, I found myself considering my own brand of reading-related "isms."  And believe me, I've had plenty of time to stock up. 

Number one on the list is a big one, a habit that I (somewhat) jokingly refer to as my propensity to book-hoard.  Despite five moves in the last four years, and despite a tiny studio apartment, I have an insane amount of books.  Out of room on the bookshelves? No problem. Fill up the closet. And the bottom dresser drawer. And the cabinet over the fridge.  When I moved here, I had one book in my backpack: "The Gunslinger" by Stephen King.  ONE BOOK came to California with me. 

The other 302,938,221 of them arrived in my apartment stealthily (with the exception of the tipsy "Game of Thrones" book-buying extravaganza,) and I didn't really take stock of the situation until a bookcase collapsed on my foot.  (Thanks for that, Ikea.) I tried to do a bit of purging at this point: everything came off the shelves, was dusted, was pored over.  Marginalia was reviewed. (Admittedly, I spent a moment sniffing "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," which still smells exactly like the man that loaned it to me.)  In the end, I got rid of five books and even that pained me. 

Add to this the fact that I live two blocks from a branch of the San Francisco Public Library, a place to which I am unhealthily addicted.  Every time some luscious new read pops up on a book blog, I am instantly requesting it from the SFPL.  There are about 30 books on my "hold" list, and I just got a glorious email that four of them have arrived and are ready for pick-up.  So tonight, all of these will also be in my apartment:

These are on my desk at work right now:

These are in my car:

And these are on my nightstand:

My name is Karen, and I am a book glutton. Thank you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

And... We're Off!

The weekend is certainly being inaugurated with a bang! In addition to gorgeous weather in the Bay Area, good friends in town, and lots of bands passing through (Girls, Chad Van Gaalen, etc.), I am extra-pleased about the following:

1) My review of Christopher Hennessy's poetry collection, Love-In-Idleness, has now been published on the Switchback website. I can't recommend this book enough, fellow poets.

2) Sarah did a feature on my writerly life on her blog, Desirous of Everything.  I've had so much fun working with Sarah and Andrea in our writing group, so getting interviewed was just a little extra glimmer on the already-awesome cake.
Have a lovely weekend! I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Back in the Groove

The last several days have been a whirlwind of getting things done, with a heavy dose of fun thrown in.  Highlights have included Berlin-style ping pong tournaments, late night funk music in China Town, and nights at the theatre with awesome humans.  (There was also one fifteen-hour sleep-a-thon. Shhh.)

More importantly, though, I've started writing again. Thank goodness.  In addition to a new chapbook underway ("The Destruction Loop"), I've been working on a new short story.  You can check out an excerpt today at D.O.E. Finally, I have a book review (that I'm really stoked about) being published on Friday over at Switchback. (I'll post more info on that when the review goes up.) 

Other notable links for the week: 

My friend Michael has a beautiful and thought-provoking article up at Inside Scoop.

I stumbled upon more glorious steampunk fashion than you can shake a stick at.  Lady London really takes the cake.

HTML Giant did an excellent post about poetry students, the things they bring to the table, and how to handle common misconceptions about poetry with generative strength. 

Finally, I have a new favorite tumblr: My Nerd Boyfriend.  If you're into geek chic, you're about to spend hours cruising these fashionable dudes.  Personal favorites include Sir Ian McKellan and William Holden.

I hope you're all having a lovely week so far, Conceptual Receptionists!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Favorites: Link Round-Up

Image Source: Adam Isaac Jackson via Ink Butter

Retronaut conducts a beautiful visual exploration of "Abandoned Organisation."

Delightful book/app trailer for The Fantastic Flying Books.

Sexy vintage pasta packaging. There's really no other way to describe this.

If Edward Gorey was your pen pal, the mailbox would be an epic place.

Tiny Desk Concerts + Beirut. Two of my favorite things.  Air hugs, NPR. Lots of air hugs.

The Los Angeles Times on my neighborhood. (I was going to say 'hood just then, but I think it might have proven their not-so-glancing point.)

Tonight, I'm off to see Junior Boys at Mezzanine.  So much dancing, poetry editing, and (hopefully) sunny mid-day napping are on the horizon. What are you up to this weekend?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Great Stude Makeover

I moved to California four years ago, three days after I graduated from a liberal arts college in Kentucky.  A wonderful friend had found me a job as an actress at a small, touring theater company, and even though I knew next to nothing about the Bay Area or San Francisco or moving across the country, I accepted the year-long contract, packed a couple of suitcases and hopped on a plane.

The result of this quick move, and the potentially definitive end point of my contract, was a rather nomadic lifestyle.  In four years, I have lived in no less than five apartments (YIKES).  I have boxed and unboxed and Salvation Army-ed more times than I can remember. Because of this, it has taken me a long time to get okay with buying nice furniture.  Why make the investment if a another cross-country (or even out of country) move was a distinct possibility?

But this September marks my two year anniversary in the Most Wonderful Apartment Ever.  I realized that I am happy as a clam and that I'm not going anywhere for a while.... and, most importantly, that my desk totally sucks. 

EXHIBIT A: The Suck-Desk

This desk was found abandoned three years ago on Florida Street.  I have been dragging it around with me ever since. The left leg sometimes collapses, the "shelves" are cavernous, the horrifically pointy edges have been known to rend flesh, and there's not enough room to WRITE in a NOTEBOOK.  If you're thinking, "But didn't you just get an MFA in Creative Writing? Isn't that a like, big freaking problem?" you have connected the dots more quickly than I, apparently, was capable of doing.

Yesterday, my dear friend Myla and I journeyed to IKEA, a trek we do not make alone for fear of never returning. With her help, I picked out, purchased, and excitedly brought to The Stude what would be its first AMAZING NEW DESK!

EXHIBIT B: Build O'Clock

So, this took a pretty long time to build. And the IKEA instructions definitely said (or rather "depicted") that one should not attempt to do this alone.  But guess what? I emerged triumphant and now my desk is a veritable Poetry Command Center. I may never leave my apartment again.

EXHIBIT C: This Desk Does Not Suck At All

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mission District Math

Bottomless Mimosas


Bookstore Walk-By

"Must buy entire series RIGHT NOW."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Yay and Nay Friday: Round 2

I can't believe an entire week has come and gone, bringing us so rapidly to another installment of "Yay and Nay Friday." Summer seems to have finally begun in San Francisco, meaning lots of hang-outery and assorted forms of chilling.  Resultantly, it's been a bit quiet over here, but now I'm ready to forge on and share some more excellent reads.  


After my disappointing experience with memoirs last week, I wanted to put forth a book of the same classification that really does things right. Everything you've heard about "Chronology" is true, especially if what you heard is that it is breath-taking. Lidia's recounting of her writerly journey is an intricate blend of dark humor and poetic prose, inviting us into the nasty predicaments of her life with a friendly panache.  Of course, she is a former Kesey companion and acolyte, an enlightening relationship that constitutes much of the later part of the memoir. This book is an absolute must-read for writers:

“Out of the sad sack of sad shit that was my life, I made a wordhouse.”

I admittedly picked this book up looking for a quick read in between bigger literary ventures, and though I went in with pretty low expectations, I still found myself sizeably disappointed.  This book shifts between past and present, exploring the lives of a Jewish family in France during World War II and an ex-pat American woman in today's Paris.  The story-line has so much potential, but de Rosnay's attempt to tie up loose ends makes an incomprehensible tragedy into something too neatly-packaged to be believed. Moreover, the characters came across as lusterless and two-dimensional, something that often occurs in over-researched historical fiction, in which more attention is given to environmental details (time, setting, etc.)

Finally, I've been doing a bit of prose-writing myself (!!!), thanks to Sarah's writing group at Desirous of EverythingMetronomes is a piece I started back in my undergrad days and have recently begun to renovate.  After years of exclusively focusing on poetry, I'm a little out of my element, but having a delightful time nonetheless.
What are you reading right now? There's always more room on the "To Read" list!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yay & Nay: A Friday of Books

This month, I have begun hacking through the enormous "To Read" pile that looks as if it will soon over-take my studio. The pile's refill rate is much higher than my rate of book consumption, but I've been finishing new reads like it's my job and think it's time to start keeping track of the awesomeness.

And so, I give you "Yay or Nay Friday," in which I will recommend something of remarkable literary deliciousness, and then ferociously warn against that which was disappointing.


This is one of those books that I'm buying everyone for Christmas.  Admittedly, I entered "Chronic City" with a bit of a bias, having fallen in love with Lethem's prose via "The Fortress of Solitude."  However, this longer, more contemporary novel provides a much different reading experience than Lethem's other work.

Perhaps my favorite thing about "Chronic City" is the brilliant collection of beyond-quirky characters.  The protagonist, one Chase Insteadman, is a former child star turned NYC loft-dweller who finds himself in a highly publicized relationship with a tragically beautiful, space-stranded astronaut (the "lostronaut," as Lethem so charmingly refers to her.) Chase's narration is underscored by the belief that he is a holographic entity, a mere follower-along, but the lofty syntax and vocabulary that characterize his voice lead readers to quite a different conclusion.  Such tension between reality and perceived reality (of the characters, of the reader, of Lethem himself) drives "Chronic City" to some of the mind's most fascinating corners. 


It is a rare thing for me to leave a memoir with the singular reaction of, "...so?"  Truly, Jon-Jon's memoir of a life in which he has admittedly accomplished little and tried even less, is just as one-dimensional as its author. 

Getting through 300 pages of Goulian's "poor little rich boy" ramblings, which seem arbitrarily connected and lack a framework that would perhaps provide some semblance of logic, was nearly impossible.  I kept hoping Goulian would have something to offer, that at some point he would provide anything other than vanity or recollections of his lifelong lack of motivation.  Sadly, such redemption never came. 


Many people that I love and respect have been recommending "Geek Love" to me, and I can't wait to get cracking on this book on my lunch break today.  Featuring an interesting mash-up of cults, carnivals, and extreme body modifications, this book sounds twisted and smart. Hooray!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Zines and Things

It is Saturday, and that means... San Francisco Zine Fest has arrived!  I have been looking forward to this day for so long and can't wait to get out the door.  Tons of pictures will be taken, tons of zines will come home with me, and I should have an epic post about this magical day coming soon.
Also, I am quite stoked to have a guest post featured on lovely librarian Sarah's blog, Desirous of Everything.  So in lieu of a longer post today, I will send you her way for all kinds of literary fun.

What are you up to this weekend?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One Woman's MFA Is Another Woman's WTF

I am a poet working in Silicon Valley. There is certainly an apparent disjunction between these two parts of my identity.  However, these two occupations of mine mesh more seamlessly than one might immediately suspect.  I've found that the orderliness of my 9-5 day provides an important balance to my after work artistic life, grounds me in a way that is wholly necessary for my poetic self to both flourish and stay focused. 

Colleagues and co-workers in each of my two "worlds" are often interested in how this seeming dichotomy works.  I haven't met anyone else in my particular "Silicon Valley Admin By Day, Experimental Poet By Night" situation, so I find that I am met with kindly inquiries into how this came about, etc.  These conversations are largely fun and fruitful, and help me gain an even better grasp on how, exactly, I divide my time. 

All of this being said, I was confronted with an entirely new response that really threw me for a loop.  Forty-eight hours after turning in my thesis, a woman employed at my company congratulated me, then asked what particular MFA I had earned.  When I responded with, "Creative Writing. Poetry," she burst into a fit of uproarious laughter.  The woman was positively gasping for air.  Everyone else in the room was clearly uncomfortable, and my jaw was quite literally on the floor. 

"You're not serious!" she said, still laughing.  "That reminds me * gasp * of when * gasp * my friend got a degree in Ancient Greek! What could you possibly do with a degree *gasp * like * gasp * POETRY?!"

Fighting my initial urge to burst into tears, pick up my pile of file folders and walk away, I managed to summon all of the Audrey Hepburn I had left, smile ruefully and comment, "I'm so sorry you disapprove of my education!"  At this, I changed the subject, all the while taking deep breaths and doing my best to keep my hands from shaking. 

I've been thinking about this for the last several days, going through various stages of sadness and anger and pity.  The realization I've come to, though, is that I'm truly grateful to have the capability to exist in both of the worlds I have chosen.  I have a rich artistic life that I have worked hard to cultivate, and I live in a city that celebrates my medium and encourages my success.  Additionally, I have a great job that fulfills my needs for organization and stability, while providing a platform for me to pursue more financially risky, creative endeavors as I so desire.  The harsh reaction of my co-worker helped me realize that this ability to thrive in dichotomous arenas is unique.  And while some might not appreciate just how important, how hard-won, how genuinely vital an MFA in something like Poetry can be, I realize it now more than ever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What I Love Wednesday: Food Edition

1) This GIF by Kyla Roma (Croissantasaurus Rex) is so hilarious and cute:
 2)  Mr. X-Stitch is one of my all-time favorite blogs.  Their Plush of the Month feature introduced an upcoming book release, "Yummy Crochet."  This sweet little [veggie] burger is one of the many how-to's the book will include.

3) San Francisco illustrator Wendy McNaughton created this amazing graphic for the NYT.  It's a totally awesome chart pairing famous writers up with their "snack" of choice: