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)

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.

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.

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)

‘what kind of writer am i…’

before the show begins

The translator’s communicator was malfunctioning so while she consulted with technical support about a repair or possible replacement I took the opportunity to whisper into the speaker’s ear. For many years, I said, I’ve been hoping for this moment, this interstitial space in which to build a wall of speech brick by brick in your ear, blocking the canal to keep out the sound of hundreds of millions of screaming humans on their deathbeds, each of them living in their own personalized squalor, sleeping under the stars winking out one by one, for isn’t that what you want, isn’t it what we all want, to not have to hear it, the sounds of our own world dying a slow strangled death—a pool of poison molasses creeping toward our personal boundaries at the edges of which we teeter, peering down and around, anywhere but at the death sludge soon to be upon us, enveloping us, drowning us. But wait, you said, what about the other ear, I can still hear out of that one. Ah, no worries, I replied, I have plenty of bricks stored upon my bowed back and a bucket of fresh mortar mixed up this morning after I arose against all odds what with the usual black fog in my head and rusted anvil sitting square on my chest. I feigned cheerfulness as I continued to whisper, now in the other ear, in case the speaker didn’t quite catch that last part about the other bricks and the fresh mortar. You see, I said, some of us have always known it was coming, maybe we were born under the wrong sign or something, that nonsense about carrying the weight of the world, even as infants (maybe that’s why we were so fat), then shedding pounds, stretching out, an entire planet’s worth of anxieties whittling away at us, stripping the flesh from our sides as the reality of what we’d been born into sank further in, spreading through our cells like a raging infection intent on nothing less than total destruction of life. However, I said…lucky for you, for those of us who know, who have always known, who will continue to know until the very moments of our very likely premature deaths, we are here to help the others, such as yourself, to block it all out, to keep you out of the know, so that you may continue to dwell in your blissful ignorance and follow your own self-serving interests. Well, you said, that’s all fine and good to hear and I appreciate your telling me all of it but you know I really must go now, I have a speech to give, I must reassure all these people in this great hall that it’s okay, the world’s not going to end, we’re all fine, it will be fine, stay calm and try not to think about it. Uh-huh, I said, sure, you go ahead, I’ve said what I came here to say and now it’s your turn to go out there and say what you came here to say, only just one second, just a moment, if you please, there is this one other bit of information I’d like to convey and that is, well, frankly, I think you’re a liar, I’ve always thought that, and it’s not just that you’re a liar, but you’re also a really bad liar, and I’m pretty certain that everyone out there in the great hall also thinks you’re a liar, they see through your ill-conceived, small-minded deception, and they’ve come here not to be reassured, as you think you’re about to do for them, but in fact they’ve come to bear witness to your final pack of lies because this is the end for you, it’s over, your time has now come and we’ll not be hearing your lies again, not here, not anywhere, it’s all been taken care of in advance you see. So goodbye, good luck, break a leg, enjoy the next few minutes, your last moments in the golden spotlight before your grand departure, before the darkness descends and your journey into the void begins …well, I won’t belabor the point…besides I really must go now, the translator is heading back this way and my friend is holding a seat for me in the front row. You’ll be fine, I said, smiling, and patted the speaker’s shoulder, who looked up at me with an expression that can only be described as blank. I slipped out around the curtain and down the steps into the darkened hall, where I took my seat and waited for the show to begin.

2017 in books and music

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Following surgery to repair a pelvic fracture in January I was unable to put weight on my left leg for three months. One might think this would have resulted in a higher read count than usual for the year, but in fact my total fell short of my average over the past few years. Part of this was actually due to a concerted effort to slow down and read more leisurely. However, another reason was that once I was fully mobile I simply did not want to sit around reading, so I ended up reading much less in the second half of the year, though toward the end as bird migration tapered off and the weather grew colder my pace did pick up again.

Below is the list of books I assigned 5-star ratings on Goodreads in 2017. A number of books I rated 4 stars probably deserve a place here, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In the 4-star category I will mention the two Julien Gracq novels I read as being particularly noteworthy (The Castle of Argol and The Opposing Shore). Regrettably I believe both of these are out of print in English translation. However, I’m happy to report that NYRB has just reissued Gracq’s moodily atmospheric novel A Balcony in the Forest, so there’s hope now for future republication of his singular work in English.

In general this year was a good one for reissues of some of my favorite buried writers. Mid-20th century British avant-garde women writers fared especially well in 2017. Much of Leonora Carrington’s writing finally came back into print as part of the centennial celebration of her birth year, including short fiction collections in both U.S. and British editions, as well as her harrowing memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams. A biography by Joanna Moorhead also appeared in the spring.

A 50th anniversary edition of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice came out from Penguin in the U.S. this fall. As the 50th anniverary of Kavan’s death approaches there has been a small surge of interest around her work. For example, the journal Women: A Cultural Review devotes its entire current issue to exploring various themes in Kavan’s work. Hopefully this new scholarship will help prompt Peter Owen to finally reprint Kavan’s mysterious novel Eagles’ Nest and the kaleidoscopic short fiction collection  A Bright Green Field, both of which have inexplicably been languishing out of print for years. (For more on Anna Kavan visit the House of Sleep).

Finally, the brief but bright shooting star of Ann Quin’s literary career received a much-deserved coda when the subscription-based UK publisher And Other Stories released a collection of her unpublished stories and fragments, which includes the powerful (though incomplete) manuscript The Unmapped Country. This fragment had previously appeared in shorter form in the long out-of-print Beyond the Words anthology. (Note that non-subscribers will need to wait until mid-January 2018 for the official publication of this volume). While the publication of this book is a boon for Quin fans, it’s probably not the best place to start with her writing. In fact, her four published novels are all quite different, so it’s tough to suggest a starting point with Quin. On an initial recommendation, I began with Tripticks and actually did not care for it but still sensed there was something drawing me to Quin. I found that in Passages, which I consider to be her masterwork. Three comes in second place, followed by her debut, Berg. Thankfully, all of Quin’s novels remain in print courtesy of Dalkey Archive Press, bless their dedicated hearts.

I will just mention one other reissue of note, tangential to Ann Quin. In April, the micro press Verbivoracious Press (VP) published the first volume of an omnibus edition of Alan Burns’ novels. Burns was part of a loosely connected band of British avant-garde writers in the 1960s that included Ann Quin, as well as B.S. Johnson, Eva Figes, Rayner Heppenstall, and others. His novel Europe After the Rain draws interesting parallels to Kavan’s Ice and the relationship between the two novels is investigated in an article by Leigh Wilson in the previously mentioned issue of Women: A Cultural Review. In the past, VP, which specializes in reprinting ‘exploratory literature from Europe and beyond,’ also reissued a volume collecting two of Heppenstall’s novels (review), and many other experimental gems, including much of Christine Brooke-Rose‘s output.

2017 5-star books (in order read):

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts / Reb Anderson
The Passion of New Eve / Angela Carter (Review)
The Poor Mouth / Flann O’Brien (Review)
The Plains / Gerald Murnane (Review)
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Review)
When the Time Comes / Maurice Blanchot (Review)
Snow Part / Paul Celan (Review)
S.S. Proleterka / Fleur Jaeggy (Review)
The Way of Chuang Tzu / Thomas Merton (Review)
The Rings of Saturn / W. G. Sebald (Review)
Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile / Alejandra Pizarnik (Review)
Old Rendering Plant / Wolfgang Hilbig (Review)

Full list of books read in 2017 can be found here.

2017 soundtrack:

Barn Owl (and solo work by Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti)
Belgrado
Drab Majesty
Emma Ruth Rundle
Gate
Goat
Grails
Grouper
ISIS
Keluar
Kodiak
Marriages
Nadja
Neurosis
Portion Control
Scorn
Tim Hecker
Yellow Swans
…and too much post-punk to list (mostly by way of this finding aid)

  • Recent Posts

  • Navigation Station

    The links along the top of the page are rudimentary attempts at trail markers. Otherwise, see below for more search and browse options.

  • In Search of Lost Time

  • Personal Taxonomy

  • Common Ground

  • Resources

  • BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS