the agent by russell edson

. . . Assigned to you when your flesh was separating from your
mother’s, this shadow, who seeing the opportunity at hand, joined your
presence in such a way as some say the soul is given.

You have always caricatured me in my travels. I have seen you on
mountains, and in dim cafes. I have seen you hold your head, your elbows
on your knees, and while I was sad you were serene!

I seek a mastery over fate, of which you are, in objective witness, the
agent of . . . I run away one night as you sleep, the trusting wife, whose
borders have opened in the universal dark.

She feels in the morning among the sheets for the easy habit of her
husband’s shape – Now arc the earth, sweet dark, the law of umbra give
you panic to search me out with your cunning speed of light!

~from The Clam Theater (1973)

a brief interview with gabriel josipovici

Reposting this link from Jeff Bursey on Goodreads to a brief but excellent interview with Gabriel Josipovici, not so much for its questions, which are fairly pedestrian, but for his responses, which are as always gracefully eloquent in their pithiness and demonstrative of a far-ranging reading mind. A writer who is woefully underappreciated, in my opinion.

Gabriel Josipovici: “I abhor art of any kind that follows agendas”

My favorite responses:

Would it be fair to say that one of the central distinctions for you between works of modernism and books you consider less interesting is not only a sensibility but also the kind of things it can do without, such as description?

Duchamp once said that it was demeaning to expect an artist to fill in the background – and it’s easy to see that once he understood that it was, for him, he was on his way to becoming the artist he was destined to be.

The Goldsmiths Prize was set up to reward fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”– what can an “innovative” approach offer the reader (and writer) that a more conventional novel might not? Do you think that books in this broad category are, for example, better-equipped to address questions of transcendence, mortality, and despair?

These are such difficult issues to pin down, aren’t they? My dear friend John Mepham, a biochemist turned philosopher turned literary critic, who died tragically young, put it as well as I’ve ever seen it put in a beautiful essay he wrote in 1976 on To The Lighthouse. “The orderliness of fiction,” he says, “involves not only an internal orderliness but also an orderliness of its telling. For a story to be told there must be, implicitly or explicitly, a teller of it, a narrator or a narrative voice, the voice of one who knows… But what if we lack this sense of epistemological security? What if our experience seems fragmented, partial, incomplete, disordered? Then writing might be a way not of representing but of creating order.” That, he sees, was always Virginia Woolf’s dilemma and the way of her art. And what he says about her I can identify with totally.

hatred of writing update

Hatred of Writing is now available at both Atomic Books in Baltimore and Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. Copies are also still available direct from me through PayPal on the order page. Many thanks to those who’ve already ordered! Your support means a lot.

From the depths of the salt mine comes…Hatred of Writing.

.

sentence death notice

The sentence died at 1:03 PM (EST). It was not an easy death. Tremors rippled across the subject area and into the predicate. Wheezing soon led to coughing up of apostrophes and commas. The sentence then clenched in pain and began hemorrhaging superfluous adjectives. It was all over in a matter of minutes. By the time the doctor arrived there was nothing left to do but carefully scoop up a jumbled pile of letters into a body bag. It was impossible to obtain a diagram for the records office.

The sentence is survived by the immediate members of its paragraph. There will be no funeral; instead, the paragraph invites all interested parties to attend a brief ceremony and reading from Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Thank you.

song of the drifter

The drifter drifts into town in the wake of a tumbleweed stampede. You know the scene. Faded porches flank a straight-arrow main drag. The chink, chink, chink of spurs as boots kick up tiny clouds of red dust. A town gone dead for want of purpose.

The drifter pauses. Cocks head left then right. Continues chink, chink, chinking down what passes for a street in these parched, forgotten parts.

Are any of my friends here?

His shout echoes off the weathered grey clapboard buildings.

(How about my enemies?)

He laughs. My enemies. They may be legion but here they are not.

Above this parody of a town the sun busies itself with broiling the world beneath it. The drifter shields his eyes, peers up. High noon approaches. The time of reckoning, he reckons.

Out of his line of sight an alley-side door cracks open. A creature of diminutive stature pokes its weather-beaten head out and focuses red rheumy eyes on the tall shadow growing larger out on the main drag. The head recedes and the door eases shut behind it.

The drifter pauses in his progress to once again bellow at the sky.

Have you forgotten me?

The tortured sound of the drifter’s voice carries. Below the porch of the town bank a pack rat pauses, whiskers twitching, in its survey of sweepings.

Where have all of you gone?

The drifter steps up onto the porch of the saloon. Chink, chink, chink. The door swings open with a creak.

In the darkness the two burning eyes pause to adjust. But there is not much to see. A roomful of dust-covered tables. A lacquered bar bare of bottles on the rack behind it. In one corner a low stage. In another a battered billiards table. And everywhere stagnation. Desolation of loss. An absence of company.

Outside the drifter removes his hat and wipes his brow. He stares across the street at the building from which had briefly emerged the diminutive creature with the watery eyes. Yes, that’s the one. He descends the stairs.

Inside the building minor panic crescendoes to a state of mania. But the small man is now dressed. He snaps the top snap of his best shirt, knots his bolo tie. Now he pulls on his boots. Now he grooms his drooping whiskers. Now he fits the gun belt around his waist. He opens the door.

It is high noon. In the street stand two figures back to back: one tall and one short. Were it not for the gravity of context the sight might elicit a chuckle, perhaps even a guffaw. But the street remains silent. It is, after all, otherwise empty.

Twenty paces is the rule here, no matter the length of stride. And so they begin. Chink, chink, chink.

The pack rat scurries down an alley, back to its midden. It wants no truck with this scene.

The two figures turnone aims high, the other low.

On a bluff outside of town a shepherd’s shaggy head swivels at the pistols’ report. He gazes down at the town as his sheep nibble the last bits of greenery growing on this rocky point.

Drawing his horn to his lips the shepherd blows a long mournful note. Down below the drifter saunters out of town whistling a tune no one ever recognizes.

today is world mental health day

Of all the commemorative days out there, this is among the most important to recognize. The reason for that is it so often feels like we as a global society have not progressed at all in reducing the overwhelming stigma around mental health issues. In fact, sometimes it seems as if we’ve actually taken steps backward or simply failed altogether. In particular, the media and the politicians excel at stoking the flames of stigma in the realm of public consciousness. Inevitably this happens around the event of a mass shooting or some other act of seemingly senseless violence. Suddenly the generic image of the ‘troubled and mentally unstable person’ is once again waved about as an attempt to explain an act for which there will likely never be a satisfactory explanation.

It is of course encouraging to turn on the radio on days like today and hear the newscasters discussing mental health in a less than disparaging way. The statistics are always staggering to hear and, in particular, the numbers of people who don’t ever seek or receive help tell the story of stigma quite accurately. After awhile, though, the topic once again drops from the public radar. Yet it never drops from the radar of those of us who personally struggle with these issues. We live with it every day of our lives. And how many of us continue to cope with it alone, in silence?

Still, I hold out hope when, for example, I open the pages of this new issue of Razorcake magazine. At least the punks are recognizing it, I think. And not only acknowledging it, but speaking about it in such frank terms. It is an excellent issue, relevant beyond a punk readership, and I tip my hat to Kurt Morris and the other staffers who helped compile it, as well as the many fine folks in the punk community who agreed to be interviewed and share their stories with whomever wishes to read them.

There is a good chance that someone close to you is struggling with mental health issues. If you sense this is the case then just by making yourself available to them you are helping. Checking in from time to time to ask about their lives and see how they’re doing goes a long way. It really can be as simple as that.

new zine: hatred of writing

Hatred of Writing, © 2018 S. D. Stewart

Now Available: Hatred of Writing

Selected short fiction from the past five years.

Limited to 50 numbered copies

48 pages, digest-sized, hand-lettered cover

Published in October 2018

$5 US / $6 CAN / $7 World

Order by PayPal or for cash payments via post send me a message.

‘something not yet unwound but waiting’

One evening they were upon the township road winding around the meadowy hill above the Sobieskis’. Below lay their hollow, the thick trees surging over their red roofs. They were now higher than the Strassers’ ridge and the sun was setting over it. There was trouble somewhere, a warning. Something not yet unwound but waiting lay complete under the green stuff in the valley bottom. On this upland the air was easy to breathe; there was still golden light. They started back again, almost with regret. A dead swallow, which had been for weeks dangling in the telephone wires, had now turned to skeleton and hung still. The descending road turned south and caught the Dilleys’ track which turned west. The sky was sapphire. Looking at it before they went down to their burrow, they saw one cloud forming, one cloud only in the whole sky, in the west directly over the sun going down. It came out in flecks and wisps, became suddenly one curled gold feather, and so stayed, as if beaten out of metal; marvellous, and the only thing in the sky and like an eyebrow right over the sun in the green sky.

Christina Stead, The Rightangled Creek

doves depart

Thunder cracks
over doves of doom
perched on wire,
tails toward gray mass
tracking north,
a wet smudge to
wash our heat away.
What wonder sprung
from this shall pass
before doves depart,
folded feathers
now unfurled,
shedding rain
as voices sing
familiar words
in arcane bursts.

japanese death poems

Four-and-fifty years
I’ve hung the sky with stars.
Now I leap through—
What shattering!

—Dogen Zenji, 1253

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going—
Two simple happenings
that got tangled.

—Kozan Ichikyo, 1360

Spitting blood
Clears up reality
And dreams alike.

—Sunao, 1926

Showing its back
And showing its front,
A maple leaf falling.

—Zen Master Ryokan, 1831

What legacy shall I
leave behind?
Flowers in spring.
Cuckoos in summer.
Maple leaves in autumn.

—Zen Master Ryokan, 1831

More on death poems here and here.

(Thank you: Dendo @ Baltimore Dharma Group)

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