by Hilary Plum, Joanna Ruocco, Luke B. Goebel
As presented at #AndNow2015 as part of Nontraditional Collectivity: A Critical Reflection and Reading by FC2.
2014 marked the fortieth anniversary of Fiction Collective 2, an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction. In the fall of that year, FC2 authors Joanna Ruocco, Luke Goebel, and I began to correspond about a panel proposal for the upcoming &NOW Festival. We thought we might take advantage of FC2’s collective structure to host a collaborative reflection on literary non-traditionalism, the history of the press, and the future of fiction. We wondered: how do “non-traditional” writers work with and against and slantwise to tradition? How can a collective publishing model encourage irreconcilable aesthetics, communal singularities, multi-directional lineages (vertical, horizontal), innovation, and affinity?
We contacted as many FC2 authors as we could reach and posed a question to which they could respond however they thought best. We asked: After 40 years, FC2 has a tradition of publishing nontraditional fiction. How would you describe this tradition of non-tradition? What is most exciting to you about the “non-traditional” today? We received responses whose multifariousness and critical/critifictional insight attest to the breadth of the collective’s work. Some of these responses were shared at &NOW in March, and some appear here for the first time.
Sometimes when I don’t know where to start, what to say, what to think about what I’m sure I think, I revert to high school rhetorical traditions and look up the key word of my subject in the dictionary. To whit, today, according to the dictionary definition provided by Google: “tradition: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.” Fair enough. Even interesting in its way. There is something about the expectation of generations that seems to do with literature to me. There is something about the implied assumption that the world one generation inhabits will bear enough at least passing resemblance to the world of the generation come before that that generation’s mores and means and wincing discoveries will have impact, assert pressure, provide a platform from which to launch. That seems very hopeful to me; hopeful in the same way that writing is hopeful because it presumes audience, assumes voice, believes in at least temporary clarity, unity, spiritus mundi. Writing is a little alchemic that way. It intends to transform, at the very least signs into symbols, at the very most ideas into ways of being.
So now I am starting to rattle along. Now I am starting to think about Brian Evenson translating Manuela Draeger, herself a heteronym for Antoine Volodine, himself a pseudonym for the Author behind/above/beside/around the signs that have become symbols. Now I am also thinking about an interview I read with Noy Holland where she said when she gets stuck in a story and doesn’t know what happens next she reads the sentence she just wrote and writes the sentence that comes after. I am thinking about how much faith that entails—in language, in heterodoxy, in play. Do we (who is we?) write to change? to subvert? to reinforce? to instruct? Why do we (who is we?) believe writing holds any of those powers? Or that we do? Or that we have the moral authority to wield them? Or that there is any moral authority, internal or external, ordering our actions as anything other than means toward survival and reproduction? And if there is not, then what is tradition other than survival? Traditionally, the water in this well has not been poisoned. Traditionally, building a fire in this way will ensure that it burns through the night.
But then I don’t know what comes next. I look back at the sentence before—fire, the sense around me of enclosed space that is nevertheless pregnable, the sense outside me of something that does not love me, darkness that does not acknowledge my fitful light—but I still don’t know the sentence that comes after. So, I go back to my definition and here I am derailed. Google has thoughtfully provided a sentence in which I can see this word, tradition, gainfully employed: “every shade of color is fixed by tradition and governed by religious laws,” Google says. But I think this is a weird sentence. Why does the apprehension of color, which to me seems private and moody, inherently subject to variable change, stand as an indicator of fixity, tradition, religious orthodoxy? What’s going on Google? oh best beloved stand-in for the promised AI future wherein the computer might not only tell me what deck Lt. Uhuru is on but also apprehend phenomenology and offer to instruct me in its ways.
This sentence, it turns out, is lifted from Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 79, first published in August, 1889. It is embedded in an article entitled “The Kremlin and Russian Art” by one Theodore Child wherein the matter of the interior décor of Russian orthodox churches, which the author describes as chockablock with “images of saints with lean, wild faces, emaciated limbs, lank hair and a most austere aspect,” is summed up gaily as: “brown, ascetic, austere and more terrible than the pictures of Cimabue. Happily’ Mr. Child goes on to say, ‘we see only the faces, hands and feet of the figures, the rest being hidden by the case, which combines the arts of metalwork, enameling and jeweled decoration.”
And then I think perhaps this is tradition. The thing with its wild aspect, its emaciated limbs, its terrible, hopeless hair, is hidden behind its form. A pretty box that can be opened and closed. A container that keeps the sacred from our frivolous gaze, but also keeps us from being worn out by its brown austerity, its great exhausted eyes which know the whole story even as it is happening and know we know it too. Tradition is a container in which the vital thing can be transmitted, but also stored, ignored, packed away…
I do not think the tradition of non-tradition is something to be taken lightly. It is easy to talk about ways of being in the world as if there were about twenty-five of them, maybe twenty-six. Comprehensible numbers that can be reduced to narrative formulas. A stranger comes to town; a man sets off on a journey. It is much much harder, more taxing, more wearing, more frightening, to envision what we inherit from those who have come before and what we pass down to those who come after as one fractal mote in an vast, amorphous, clamorous, scintillating multiplicity. Tradition passed down not as a torch, but as a handful of snow. To take those tiny, pretty doors off the box and give the saint’s baleful eyes free reign.
Please note you whomever, I don’t say this is better (Better than what, computer? And by the way, I’ll have a mug of warm Warnog before I go to bed) but it is harder and it can grind people very very thin.
Right now it is spring and I am moody. The colors are variable and have no sense of the laws by which they are governed. They are here for a moment and then the moment passes. But the tradition of non-tradition… that to me seems vital because it is so affirming. I am here, this one insubstantial mote, says non-traditional art (and what is “traditional” art, computer? Isn’t it sort of kind of kitsch at best, fascism at worst?) and sure, sure the abyss looks back, but meanwhile there is time to gather and make in the possibly fully faulty assumption that there will be someone to give this making to who will understand its function. Which is to write the next sentence, of course. Whatever sentence follows from the one that comes before.
1. The Rival Tradition (Ron Sukenick Remixed by Mark Amerika)
What I’m writing is not in an avant-garde mode, and certainly not in an experimental mode, and certainly not in an “alternative” mode. It comes out of a rival tradition, and it’s much older and much bigger than the tradition of realist fiction, which only started in the 18th Century. Whereas this rival tradition you can trace all the way back to the epics, Ovid, Rabelais, and even at the beginning of the realist tradition, to Laurence Sterne, and Diderot, and so on. This is a tradition that’s beginning to flourish again, this time in a variety of multi-media forms, especially in the networked space of digital flows.
We can trace it back to the rivalry between Socrates and the Sophists. On the one hand you have a tradition of logic that has to do with the gaining preeminence of written language. Then, on the other, you have the tradition of the rhetoricians, which is antithetical and self-contradictory and flowing. It depends more on what Duchamp, in his 1957 lecture “The Creative Act,” refers to as “pure intuition” and is really a way of processing reality per se. The beauty of intuition is that anybody can do it. It doesn’t take a lot of institutionalized training and is best learned through an unconscious set of information behaviors usually aligned with one’s potential to manipulate data through their own perceptual apparatus. But in order for intuition to work, you have to let in the random, and pick up on the signals being transmitted from the environment you’re composing in. This is a completely different approach to more conventional writing styles that rely on the writer’s ability to realistically portray a false version of consciousness they feel the need to construct in order to maintain narrative logic.
This isn’t to say that the rival tradition is anti-logical, but that it doesn’t have the same kind of syllogistic logic based on fixed philosophical ideas and definitions. It’s an improvisational sort of intelligence, based on the way we think and speak more than on the way we read. I think it’s much more appropriate to our mode of thinking these days, especially when you think of the kinds of popular and innovative arts we’re surrounded by and that are being distributed like mad over the networked and mobile communication systems we now have at our disposal.
Happy 40th birthday. Like you, I am a middle aged American of bizarre gender and mighty ideals. From my creaky chair and through my new progressives, let me remind you of the import of your mission today. I can tell you from atop my high horse that the publishing climate in which FC2 began is the same but worse. Readers don’t buy from publishers, they buy from Amazon. Every time a writer posts on Facebook: “I’m # whatever on Amazon!” a baby angel dies. Every time a writer brags from a blog into the ether “I am pleased to announce the publication of my fortieth book of whatever, alongside the fabulous whoever I went to college with, blurbed by someone I heard is cool of but didn’t read,” a baby angel stabs itself to death. Cultural capital ain’t what it used to be, both for better (yay, diversity!) and worse (boo, stupidity!). Big houses kneel before a mass market of generic desire rather than doing something interesting before the a vast market of many varieties of actual human readers. FC2, please save the angels by continuing not to publish crap just because other people won’t publish it. Please keep asking yourself what does and does not constitute crap. Learn from the young people but don’t forget to roll your eyes demonstratively at smug mugs. You are now middle aged, and that means you are old. It’s your job to operate with integrity or wander into the hills to die in the cave from whence. Choose wisdom over crotchety. Choose integrity over fear, over greed. Not that I will. I’m going to chase some mediocre literary magazines off my lawn. Luckily you’re a collective, not a corporation, and not a lonely person still peering out the window trying to make some art not suck.
Oh what does it matter.
I mean, come on, FC2, you can do it!
I discovered Fiction Collective in the 1970s, with books by Fanny Howe and Marianne Hauser. Years later, I sent FC2 a novella, which co-won the 1991 FC2/Illinois State Fiction Competition.
Inspired by FC and FC2’s authors and mission, I then did my own collection of ‘new writing by women’ with Camille Norton in 1992, called Resurgent (ever after stuck in my mind as ‘Regurgent.’) In the intro I declared “writing respects no authority,” in part angry about the postmodern label, the various guys defining it, and the ‘modernist’ women writers I loved who, ignored in life, mostly killed themselves or starved on the streets. Under ‘new writing by women’ I included a tribute to the writings of Koko the Gorilla and to the ‘pen without a hand writing in a box in Rolla, Missouri.’ I enjoyed myself.
FC2 was liberating, my kind of writers to hang out with, in my head: Evan Dara, Melanie Rae Thon, Clarence Major, Joseph Cardinale (“…I sat down beside her. I wrote rangutan next to the circle…”), Noy Holland, Hilary Plum, Lucy Corin, Chris Mazza, Ronald Sukenick, Steve Tomasula, Ralph M. Berry.
At one point I became a reader for FC2, but it didn’t last long, because I really didn’t like writing about writing. Though I’m grateful for those who do both well, like R.M. Berry: “It is being made as it is being made. There are no boundaries. The form of writing now is presentness or bad faith.”
Somewhere along the line I started designing books for a living. I offered to do some for FC2 and they took me up on it. I’m still doing it. Working with R. M. Berry, Brenda Mills, Dan Waterman, and FC2 authors has been one of the high points of my freelance life. “Worked for FC2 for over twenty years” is one of the few things I could stand to have carved on my gravestone. Not that I plan to have a stone. The headstone in my head, that is.
What’s most exciting about it? Compelling interest, artistic integrity, subversive thought, shameless assertion of selves, forward motion. FC2 helps keep these alive for me, and therefore, me alive. 2.3.15/L.R.
Humans are animals that have traditions. Other animals have “behaviors.” Humans also have behaviors, but our behaviors, such as omitting the Oxford comma, are governed by our traditions. That is to say that most of what we do is done for no concrete reason and is subject to sudden and capricious change. Because a tradition is something that we make up. Whenever we want to, we can make up a different tradition. We can suddenly include the Oxford comma. We can suddenly start marrying each other even though we are homosexuals. This is why we treasure our traditions: because they are made up, not just fragile but fictitious. If we did not treasure them they would not exist.
When we reach the point in our lives when we begin to wonder about the kinds of fiction that are published, we quickly become aware of a complication in the use of the word “experimental.” The complication is that this word is used in at least two mutually exclusive ways. First, it is used to describe a genre, which is to say a tradition, of fiction that is similar to the fiction of Samuel Beckett or William S. Burroughs or any number of other writers whose fiction has traditionally been thought of as “experimental.” Second, it is used to describe fiction that is difficult to classify formally — that is, fiction which does not fit into any tradition, including that of experimental fiction.
This complication in the use of the word “experimental” is typical of human traditions. In addition to being animals that have traditions, humans are also animals that want to escape themselves. Who has not wakened one Sunday morning, after vivid and inexpressibly peaceful dreams, with the sense that it could all just slough away, like a snake’s skin, all the traditions and all the civilizations of the world and all the languages and history of the world sloughing away like a snake’s skin to be replaced by a new and yet somehow eternal mode of experience where there are no traditions but only a dense awareness?
We lie there in the morning gloom longer than usual, until we remember that we have to empty the dishwasher. We don’t work that day, instead undertaking to learn Hungarian, or to reread Plato’s Apology.
This, too, is a tradition. This is what humans do. These experiences are recited in stories and in parables. When it is time to set out on the road, we have a tradition for that as well. Humans are animals that have tradition, and tradition is a pattern of behavior that includes its own destruction. The promise of FC2 is to publish fiction that is more human.
FC2 has clearly established itself as a standard bearer of nontradition in fiction, and thus now stands somewhat paradoxically, as figure of the tradition of nontradition. As a canon of heterodox work emerges, so do the problems that attend any canon — with all bearers of standards and traditions of any kind, there is a risk of both stale and exclusionary practice. Perhaps the challenge for FC2 is less to stay fresh on a literary level, and more to remain heterodox in terms of that canon. The challenges are: to update the meaning of heterodox, to recognize that which is truly hard to publish or noncommercial (and why), and to refresh the very meaning of writing on and from the margins. Those margins are not merely formal. FC2 needs to work very hard to represent voices that have been excluded from, or underrepresented in, a host of literary canons in the United States, including its own: the voices of people of color in particular; those writing in multiple languages, including those working in translation; queers; people writing from economic and institutional margins; people writing collaboratively; writers working at, or even over the edges, of the genre of fiction; and those coming out of the codex altogether, whether in the direction of textile, digital text, or other media. FC2 has not done nothing on these fronts, but to list exceptions — wonderful as they are — would be tokenistic, another occupational hazard that attends the literary authority that FC2 has earned.
FC2 isn’t afraid of publishing things that won’t find themselves into big-time print or even medium-time print because of the issue of marketability. That’s the determining factor in most publishing outside of small, adventurous houses, and I hope I’m right when I say that’s the one least considered by respected FC2 when considering the merit of a manuscript outside the tradition. This is a radical idea, really, to eschew or minimize the dollar-reality when something good appears that by its nature isn’t convertible into a mass appeal product. It packages texts that appeal to rare minds without apology for the lack of kinship with what is supposedly happening (and is selling) today. It assumes a prophetic role in a non-religious age for the keepers of what might be the true word. It gambles, it risks constantly for stakes that aren’t even set. Along the way, it has fun with an upsetting literature that doesn’t churn the stomach so much as confuse, challenge, demand wakefulness. It’s a bracing whistle signaling an unexpected, bonus recess when all the other kids are trudging into the classroom, exhausted. It invents new monkey bars to test ignored muscles that are the only way to keep going, going, going…. Anything to stay out of the classroom and the dull minute hand confirming death in desk…. It wants to play all day…. I hope, I hope….
A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. —Albert Camus
Dear Joanna and FC2 and all the heterodox ships at sea,
The first thing I loved about FC2 was that phrase about being heterodox. It made me feel smart and unsure and scared that I might not really know what it meant but I might. Besides, I thought it must mean something about being out of the box. And I’ve been around long enough to remember an old Melvina Reynolds song about little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same. And I knew for damn sure I did not belong in one of those. So I’m heterodox, and FC2 selected a book of mine for the first Ronald Sukenick innovative fiction award so maybe I must fit, right? Who knows. But that “yes” cracked my heart wide open.
Every time I’ve spoken with other members of the tribe—and eventually, I have to say it felt so good to be part of such a high fallutin’ and over the top talented tribe—but every time I spoke with one of us, I realized that no one author had a formula for innovative fiction. In fact, each of us had and has and is in the process of kicking into birth— a new definition with each book. And after 40 years, FC2 shows me, shows all its readers and writers, I’d say—just how to do it without knowing how to do it. But being driven to reach for a branch and swing until my heels kick at a piece of sky. Not your version of non-traditional? Non-agreement is heterodox, too. Smile. That’s me being cheeky.
But for me personally, publishing non traditional fiction means I recognize the daring flights of language and shape and layout and imagined unimaginable(s), when I meet them. For me personally, I like a multi genre aspect that can be a continuous play between a narrative merging with created visual imagery (my own photographic montages are often spliced in between pages), and the poetic voice, lyric or harsh and non-linear. For me personally, I can and do and will continue to cross genres, mix the imagistic and the poetic line with what must only fit between covers. Or pour my non-plot driven stories into my bath water and sink deep in until I make bubbles and write what I want to offer without drowning. The best I can do, for a day or a year or a life’s work as a painfully shy but daring writer.
Another thing: I like not being pigeon-holed as poet or prose-ist. Some critics have actually raised the question as to whether a certain book or story of mine, or another’s is poetry or prose. (A few did that for my FC2 “Beautiful Soon Enough.” One wrote that it is the kind of book that, growing up, used to make me fearful of reading books. It’s intricate. —I’d call a lot of the sentences “sentences” only because I’m not sure what else to call them—) And that’s fine with me. I like to let the question hang. And I love hanging with a tribe of odd ones who are also hanging by their cracked open hearts and their thumbs . . . to write something brave and beautiful. I trust that we each write what we are able to, today, and with the permission to ask no permission, I join the hard swim and just pray that at the end of a day I might hold up my head and say, I did it. And that I still like it in the morning, or after it’s published.
I have tried to say this a few times: I love an approach to literature that is not nailed into a box. I think of a line from Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead,” . . .
because you’d be helpless in there, wouldn’t you, stuffed in a box . . . I mean you’d be in there forever. So for 40 years, FC2 has published books that do not want to be stuffed in a box. And that is such a damn good high fallutin’ wonderful thing. I hope I keep understanding and misunderstanding and that I get to keep playing with this gang of dirty-faced rebels. What more can a woman who is writing this page from the shores of the River Seine in Paris this morning hope?
And since I woke up this morning in Paris, I’ll end as I began with Camus: The only way to deal with an unfree world is to be become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
Yours, FC2, from sky to sky,
Paris/ winter 2015
I like to think about FC2’s project in pathogenic terms. A pernicious STD, maybe. Once that thing’s in your system, it’s with you to stay. You’ll never be able to shake it, no matter how many antibiotics you push into your veins. And you’ll have to announce it to every future partner you metaphorically sleep with. Proudly, like an accomplishment.
Or another way of saying this: I was phoning Noy Holland the other day with some FC2 business. At one point I bragged about our ability to make the only constant for us our inconsistency (for 41 years now, no less), about our ability to think continuously outside the box. “What box?” Noy asked, sincerely flummoxed.
Or another way of saying this: Kim Addonizio, Kassten Alonso, Mark Amerika, George Angel, Rosaire Appel, Alain Arias-Misson, Mark Axelrod, Tricia Bauer, Jonathan Baumbach, Margo Berdeshevsky, Kenneth Bernard, Kate Bernheimer, R.M. Berry, Sarah Blackman, Karen Brennan, Jerry Bumpus, C.W. Cannon, Joseph Cardinale, Omar Castaneda, George Chambers, Alexandra Chasin, Brian Conn, Andree Connors, Lucy Corin, Moira Crone, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Evan Dara, Samuel R. Delany, Jeffrey DeShell, Debra Di Blasi, Tony Diaz, Melvin Dixon, Rosalyn Drexler, Janice Eidus, Eurudice, Brian Evenson, Raymond Federman, Larry Fondation, B.H. Friedman, Diane Glancy, Thomas Glynn, Luke B. Goebel, Amelia Gray, Sara Greenslit, Christopher Grimes, Richard Grossman, Stephen Gutierrez, James Baker Hall, Rob Hardin, Marianne Hauser, Noy Holland, Fanny Howe, Harold Jaffe, Lily James, Bayard Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, Michael Joyce, Steve Katz, Lynn Kilpatrick, Matthew Kirkpatrick, Brian Kiteley, Affinity Konar, Norman Lavers, Patrick Lawler, Philip Lewis, Norman Lock, Judy Lopatin, Ryan MacDonald, Clarence Major, Stephen-Paul Martin, Michael Martone, Jay Marvin, Franklin Mason, Cris Mazza, Deborah McKay, Michael Mejia, Mark J. Mirsky, Ursule Molinaro, Lance Olsen, Toby Olson, Constance Pierce, Vanessa Place, Hilary Plum, David Porush, Jan Ramjerdi, Doug Rice, Michelle Richmond, Matthew Roberson, Lou Robinson, Leon Rooke, Joanna Ruocco, Pamela Ryder, John Henry Ryskamp, Rachel Salazar, Leslie Scalapino, Linda Schor, Michael Seide, Jacques Servin, Elisabeth Sheffield, John Shirley, Seymour Simckes, Alan Singer, Carol Smith, Peter Spielberg, Susan Steinberg, Robert Steiner, Rob Stephenson, D.N. Stuefloten, Ronald Sukenick, Yuriy Tarnawsky, Kathryn Thompson, Melanie Rae Thon, Steve Tomasula, Jessica Treat, Lewis Warsh, Don Webb, Ivan Webster, Mac Wellman, Kellie Wells, A.B. West, Curtis White, Diane Williams, William S. Wilson, Max Yeh, Lidia Yuknavitch, Magdalena Zurawski.
How Baby Jessica Grows Up:
Sketches for a Nonconsensual Group Sing Along
Appropriations Curated by Jessica Lee Richardson
Sound Exhibits Feature:
Patrick J. Lawler
<3 <3 <3
Baby Jessica waddles across the autumn lawn.
How would you describe this tradition of non-tradition?
I consider the genres: Interview. Manifesto. Lede. Love letter.
“In uncertain times,” My brain is diseased with logic. Meaning please figure it out, Cocksucker. Meaning please listen up.
Get up, I say to the children. Get up. Get up. I want to keep playing.
Baby Jessica waddles across the autumn lawn.
What she remembers: waking up in a bundle of blankets on the floor her body and mind no longer bulbous and opaque, her childhood cured by inadvertent amateur electroshock. Or wolves that work together in a hunt.
I forgot to tell you we lived in the ground.
What is most exciting to you about the “non-traditional” today?
It’s going to be fucking uncomfortable—a sequined cardboard top hat, red, white, and blue spandex, a skit, lists of statistics, the theater troupe, scholars obsessed with an ideal, always returning. Something feels very strange about the container of my body. You don’t have to be a genius to figure about what I’m saying. If you are patient enough and still—the light distant, opaque—you just might see where they are headed.
Throw olive pits and eggshells and banana peels and coffee grounds down on top of her and her body will return to dirt. Let something take root and grow in the decay. Baby Jessica is surprised by the colors of dirt. Deep red, pink, black, yellow like layers of birthday cakes.
It is not time for cakes. It is time for books. First, in the nursery, cakes. Then books. It is time for books. She picked up her bucket and she returned to the beck, to the black bank of the beck that flowed through the village to the brickfield. She followed the beck. “I am not amenable to babies,” he said.
It was so hot it was hard to hear.
I wish we were one of those groups that rolled signs from the tops of buildings.
Curly headed lamb-like people—only the evil ones were forcing themselves into the party, as far as I could tell. The good ones paraded around in the sun and floated and swam to the sky. The point is simply that the line between what you are and what you’re observing is erasable—that if you stare at an object all the way and without limitation you are no longer anything else. You’re everything.
Go to your desk, I say.
She makes her mess beneath the desk. Her legs shake. She looks at me.
I open the books. Inside, I see black.
How would you describe this tradition of non-tradition?
He gathers up the pile of papers on the table and takes them to the kitchen where he drops them into the trash where tomorrow he will find them and wonder why he would throw out such precious words and remove them and read them and put them on the desk to work on tomorrow after a game of Crystal Castles, objects both shiny and prone to mechanical movement, might be constructed to entertain.
This was years before my brother became invisible. I didn’t know that he had been secretly rehearsing.
Perhaps he was amenable to babies after all.
All those old poems about roses just meant pussy anyhow and what did they really mean.
She looks around the room. Her eyes see: table, books, parament, pyx collection, stove, palm fronds, window, stained glass. In the stained glass, she sees tiny bubbles which contain worlds. “Did all this come from a catalog?” she says. A glass rain.
It was impossible to tell whether we lived in the story or lived in the words. As she enters the light of the cameras and lookers-on she, too, forgets. She will become a photograph. I would sever her neck with the housekeeper’s shovel but I have only the covers of books.
“Are you an animal?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I want to go home,” she said.
“You are home.”
America has turned to Shitholeville. Everyone seems flat. A teenager in a red cape on rollerblades, Fake coffins wrapped in flags, piss in Pepsi bottles, the false-feeling velvet, words sounded like the caves where they used to say.
My sister would spend afternoons digging for relics in the backyard. She felt something, blacked out and static, hurt but bitter and wise. The one,
torn, a red thing, & the other somehow immaculate.
The vicar’s daughter sang like a linnet. She took a large book behind the hedge. She took a cup of overdrawn tea. The hours are always passing. The books are bound in buckram. The little book is mensuration. The large book voyages and lives. The vicar’s daughter sang. Hours are always passing.
“But how do you know we’re getting the facts right?”
“What do you mean, right?”
“I mean do you have any proof?”
“No one has proof.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“Of anything,” she said.
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“Right,” she said. “So we’re looking for it.”
How would you describe this tradition of non-tradition?
He wraps the blanket around her tight and hands, reads a poem to her:
“This one is called For No Clear Reason. I am pretty sure I wrote this one.” Rarely with audience, he is suddenly embarrassed that he may be reading work not written.
Baby Jessica will:
Say she remembers nothing, say she has no recollection.
“I reject law,” she says. “This fountain has no laws.”
“What about gravity?”
“That’s just a good idea.”
How do you clear the throat of vomit without electricity? You find holiness in the holes where time cuts you a break. There are whole years of me they don’t know.
What is most exciting to you about the “non-traditional” today?
Her wrist, her ankle, her hip, her neck, her nose, her palm, her shin, her spine, her rib, her chin, her chin, her chin, her chin. Tiny saint bones, flying alchemists, honey dances, the gray footage, a classic slapstick figure—the children listen. They have knocked over the chairs. Until they simply put mattresses upon the kitchen floor and camped there. But then after many months letters began to arrive. They seemed like temporary openings to another deeper something, that which was beyond the endless white.
We all had a good laugh.
The next morning, there was another baby. And another. And another. And another.
We pictured workmen unearthing the cherry trees we left in that lawn. Our bodies curved out so gracefully in descending to the water, rising back to the surface, round syllables one could slip into, people who passed the sign shouting blood needed in red letters, a float, blood-colored, and people were singing. I open a book. I try to look through the book, the holes in the book. I open the holes with the knife. I see my foot. I look through the hole in my foot. Worlds warping, preying dark. Here is rebirth, horrid to watch, I’ll tell you, and a coward in ceremony is no friend to anyone.
Into the bath to clean us off from all the fictions.
One day I would make a list of all the people I didn’t save.
I didn’t have a veil big enough.
No line connected one instance of that body to the next except the words that I remembered and the name.
We hear the Master on the stairs. We hear the Master in the hall. We hear the Master pass the door. Master, says Spot, but the Master does not stop. He is going up to the tower, around and around the spiral steps to the tower. During one of the fire drills my father made a fire out of my poem. “This will make things more realistic,” he said to the family. Then he turned to me. “Now you’ll have something to write about.”
In another notebook I began converting the list of sightings into graphs and graphing each entry along a grid that stood for the sea.
- I star the star.
- I contemplate infinity.
- I am a star, staring at myself.
- I can’t stop staring.
- I am infinitely stared at.
- The star lasts as long as I stare at it.
- I stare forever.
- I immortalize the star.
“Don’t you have a job, though? Don’t you have any goals?”
These questions make me uncomfortable. Can’t you do something natural for a change, he had said. I put my mouth on the page. I flatten my mouth on the page. I flatten my nose on the page. I breathe hard. I suck the page. I pull the page between my lips. It pulls against my teeth, against my tongue. I wet the page. To insist that one translation is right and the rest are wrong is of course to miss the point, said the Instructor.
Would you come to live on my side of the moon? I said to the Whatever girl.
I like a woman in command of all of me and my moving. The heat was dangerous.
How agreeable I was to the easy law of Yes. I walked down Fire Lane. They seemed, one official later remarked quietly, to be celebrating. A point of light burned forever ahead of me in the space she told me to imagine floating into the dome of the Milky Way, a stranger’s skin. The heat was dangerous, I said again.
“Where are you going?”
“Somewhere else,” I said.
“You are somewhere else.”
The page comes apart in my mouth. I gag. Is this the word. Is this the word? Is this the word? Yes, it is the word. My mouth knows the word. It is the word that the Master intends for me. It is mine.
Baby Jessica senses something in the darkness in front of her.
I squeeze gray milk from the hem of my dress. I straighten my dress. I am pretty and clean for the lesson. To sit and watch them, watch the flesh bruise and dampen on the stone, what had been blossoming becoming decay, no one coming through that place to tidy, and why should they tidy?—that’s not what we owe each other.
How would you describe this tradition of non-tradition?
Feelings accommodated and accentuated by a low soundtrack of mechanical muttering and the surprising but welcome sudden proliferations of celebrity impersonators? For a long time there was only this: a long and mournful sound that went on and on growing louder and softer and higher and lower, speeding up and slowing down. How long this sound lasted and what it meant I wasn’t sure. I felt at first as if he were asking me a question I no longer knew how to answer, but then I began to think—I was thinking in words.
Go to your desk, I say. Attired solely in black silk trousers, squatting and staring with contemplation at selected discrete objects. It’s just about being a person. Sexless. Mainly. And calm. Wanting more than the sham of self I created all alone out of myself. Didn’t you owe them more checking out Today for a while?
Get up, I say. Get up.
It is not time for cakes. It is time for books. First, in the nursery, cakes. Then books. It is time for books.
– As in, so you kept reading and didn’t pay attention?
– The word “special” often carries both positive and negative connotation.
– How much can it matter about the language? I have my hands.
– My parents think this is noble work, but they don’t want to hear about it.
I want to ask them all. Who have you lost?
What is most exciting to you about the “non-traditional” today?
Open your books, I say.
The children certainly have books. The nursery is filled with books. I see books on the desks by bottles of black fluid and I see books on the carpet. The crib is filled with books.
Watch out Pappa. We are coming. And we’re never going to stop.
Here comes all what you have made.
Hilary Plum is the author of the novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets (FC2). She co-edits Rescue Press’s Open Prose Series and is an editor with the Kenyon Review. She lives in Philadelphia.
Joanna Ruocco is the author of several books including Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith from Fiction Collective Two & most recently Dan from Dorothy, a Publishing Project. She co-edits Birkensnake, a fiction journal with Brian Conn.
Luke B. Goebel is a fiction writer from Portland Oregon, formerly living in east Texas, where he was an Assistant Professor of English at UT Tyler. Now? Make an offer! His first novel: Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours (FC2) was the winner of the 2014 Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction.