Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Modern Way to Die and Out of Breath, Out of Mind, Peter Wortsman's 2020 story collections

"Wortsman displays a savage descriptive edge, precise and crucial, that is as natural as it is canonically reminescent of the panEuropean urbanism of such writers as Robert Walser and Robert Musil" --Anthony Abbott in American Bookseller
"Wortsman hang(s) with the masters....Dozens of dangling avalanches for people with dreamer's block."--A. Scott  Campbell, The Boston Phoenix
"A fantastic book....Marvelous writing, wonderful craft; and the breath of imagination....(Wortsman) succeeded so well in his craft and art that it reads 'artless' and'spontaneous,' which to me is the highest of compliments.--"Herbert Selby, Jr., author of  Last Exit to Brooklyn.

We have more time to think and seek meanings in our Covid lives. Consider Peter Wortsman's words.  He creates strange universes of human life we think we know, and shows them singular in ways we might never have imagined. Peter Wortsman is the author of novels, books of short fiction, plays, and travel memoirs. He is also a literary translator from German into English. Wortsman was a Fulbright Fellow in 1973 and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2010. His writing has been honored with the 1985 Beard’s Fund Short Story Award,  the 2012 Gold Grand Prize for Best Travel Story of the Year in the Solas Awards Competition, and a 2014 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY). 
His travel reflections were selected five years in a row, 2008-2012, and again in 2016, for inclusion in The Best Travel Writing. His short fictions have appeared, in their original German, with English translations, most recently in the 2020 German-English volume Stimme und Atem (Out of Breath, Out of Mind) by Berlin's PalmArt Press ( and others in A Modern Way to Die, second edition published in 2020 in English by the U.S. publisher PELEKINESIS ( wortsman-a modern way to die) 
Shocking, funny, harsh and always unexpected, I follow his journeys prepared to be shorn of complacency and then; a sweet ending. Some short samples: 
Little Alien from the Planet Uterus
These spots and swirls resembling lunar scapes (transmitted, not from Outer, but from Inner Space) reveal the molten core of the Planet Uterus, its sole inhabitant soon to erupt, kicking up a cosmic storm, refusing to hold still for identification. The Technician takes a fuzzy likeness all the same. What will it want? What will earth look like on landing, its population towering perilously overhead?  Read this years hence, little alien from the Planet Uterus, and remember--your mother, her bulging belly being prodded by a high tech cattle prong; your father, benumbed bull peering fearfully over the technician's shoulder, asking: What is it?; and you, a reluctant neuter squiggle on the creen, a black hole, a big bang in the making--is there pleasure and pain where you are? 
How to Kill Time
It is not enough to merely strangle time. There's too much of it for that, and the very element you thought to release from its misery will tackle you in return and do you in. Try if you like to crush a second, noisome mosquito, a swarm of others will sting you in its wake and make you wish you were no longer that swollen aching mass of me.
I have tried to drown it, asphyxiate it, disembowel and decapitate (all the medieval techniques), and even to deny its existence--nothing doing!
The only effective method I have found for temporarily immobilizing (if not obliterating) time is to take pleasure in its passing.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Anne Waldman's SANCTUARY, Marc Zegans' THE SNOW DEAD

Anne Waldman's SANCTUARY (Spuyten Duyvil,  is a mind bending book of poems with wonderful collages by T Thilleman. Anne Waldman is an renowned poet and founding member of the "Outsider" experimental poetry community. She has read in the streets, as well as Casa Del Lago in Mexico City, the Dodge Lit Festival in the U.S.A., the Jaipur Lit Festival in India and teaches poetics all over the world. Waldman is an original "Open Field Investigator" of Consciousness.  Among her many books are "Fast Speaking Woman" (City Lights), the P.E.N. Award-winning, Lovis Trilogy "Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment", and her 2018 "Trickster Feminism" (Penguin). An excerpt from a poem in SANCTUARY below.  Her calligraphic design, important to the text of the complete poem, couldn't be reproduced in this blog. I think you get a sense of her dynamic words. More at

Light Coda Occludes  

well, it’s very frightening. here last weekend raids in harlem and brooklyn. i am reading exact parallels in my studies of german theology circa 1932. very very scary. my church people had an intense meeting last week deciding to be in the radar of ICEwith sanctuary status. They have no illusions-- are already aware that the nation-wide changes to driver’s licenses due Oct 2020 = voter suppression. And still hoping for reparations. Paul Tillich has an excellent stance re: the Courage to Be, In Spite Of... love, Lisa

Forty guards with clubs went on a rampage and brutalized thirty-tree jailed suffragists. This was at Occoquan Workhouse. Orders of W.H. Whittaker. Lucy Burns was beaten and then they chained her hands to cell bars above her head. She was left there a night. Dora Lewis was hurled into a dark cell, her head smashed against the iron bed, she was out cold. Dora! Alice Cosu her roommate thought she was dead and suffered a heart attack. The affidavits reported women were grabbed choked slammed pinched beaten kicked and twisted

Occludes……………………………………………o ruse, o blues, abuse, subterfuge, o rues, intrudes, 
This “not-seeing” in the midst of seeing, this not seeing that is the condition of seeing, became the visual norm that has been a national norm, one conducted by the photographic frame in the scene of torture. (Judith Butler) 
what is our constellation? field of truths?  camera &; invasion positioning &; valence &; question &; target each such time, such as, such as it is, such as it was, and be that as it is, and head and aching head and my arcing headlong as it is in suchness rush to meet lights and other resilient head, soldier, shudders back, saved this time. head of armistice reckoning head — pubic metabolism 

rocks the world its sweet and vile pain (someone dies) cerulean sky scars hinges loops stress marks thickets cracks green of meadow below shifts blue unsettled green blue no longer hope cloud as if scattered across a gambling table permitted there? behind the masks? money? Gaza. A fence? living way below the poverty line. gazillions...

The Snow Dead by Marc Zegans, published by Cervena Barva Press,

Mark Zegans considers himself a student and admirer of Anne Waldman.  He is the author of five previous collections of poems, The Underwater Typewriter, Boys in the Woods, Pillow Talk, The Book of Clouds, and La Commedia Sotterranea: Swizzle Felt's First Folio form the Typewriter Underground; two spoken word albums Night Work, and Marker and Parker, and immersive theatrical productions Mum and Shaw, and The Typewriter Underground. The Snow Dead debuted theatrically in Erotic Eclectic's "Sin-aesthetic" at the Lost Church during San Francisco's 2019 Lit Crawl.  His poetry can be found at 

The short paragraphs of The Snow Dead form an inquisitive meditation on life and death. The anonymous narrator is, like Waldman, an "open field investigator" deciphering enigmatic marks in  cold snow.  I found The Snow Dead akin to Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood,  where  different stories and voices are linked by life in a Welsh fishing town.  Zegans' marks in the snow indicate lives frozen, glacier-like, in time. The narrator details what he sees and conjectures, aware how little is left when "all is said and done."  An exerpt below.

We peer into history, as we stare
Below the root line. Looking up
Is more complex, a tracing of past
And a hurtling expansion
But in the ice all is dead, purified
Crystalline, and yet blue like life.

The offerings are left on the surface
Testamentary evidence of the killing.
The bodies in ice were never offered
Merely preserved, accidents in waiting.

On the surface, there is no recovery.
The snow dead decay more slowly
The flies do not swarm. We watch.
At distance, they appear as black marks

The work of a spare calligrapher
Who enlivens the field by its small rupture.
Gradient enters as we approach
First tone, then hue, then texture
Finally wetness. We see the slicked blood
The glistening hair by the wound.
The seeping of fluids draws raptors.

A fox lies on fresh snow.
Its neck broke, slight steam
Exiting its once clever mouth.

Before I knew how to make snow angels
There was the corpse on the bowed lawn
Arms thrown wide, palms up, fingers spread
Shoed toes pointed toward the sidewalk.

When the first snow came
The uncut grass poked up
Leaving small circles
Around stiffened stems
Taking season as aberration.

“The souls speak louder
In the graveyard
Under winter snow,”
She said, leaving
Footprints amongst
The headstones.

I can’t tell you anything.
I missed the opportunity.
My bones tell no tales.
The snow heaves over
My recent-filled grave.
In spring it will sink

We take the frozen rictus
As a grin, as if there was
A secret, zygomatic joke
Less than cosmic, merely
Private, as if, in the life
Cut short at the moment
Of death, wry truth is given.
It is a lie we tell ourselves.

She was a pin-up model
In World War II, known
To millions in glossies
Then forgotten, neglected
Living still into her 80s
Alone in a weathered house
Above Route 2, attic filled
With curling stills, dried ink
And bushels of love letters

The smell of dark wool tweed
Over dark wool suits
Black shoes not meant for snow
Leather gloves that will pinch
And stain when touched by salt.

I would walk though the woods
Scavenging fallen branches,
The leaf stripped deadwood,
Cut it, stack it and leave it to dry.
I could tell by feel how long it
Had rested in the snow, and why.

“Don’t be fooled,” he said
“Many of the snow dead
Have life in them yet.
Some are simply resting
Others hiding in winter
Most don’t know
Warmth a memory lost.”

Streetlights and silence in this cold
Place lit by candles, convenience store
Chocolate donuts and well-aged wine
Our only food, as we sit on the floor
Staring out at the snow-cleaned street.
It’s four AM. We are the only two people
Alive. You have no power, nor I
But there is electricity between us.



Saturday, April 4, 2020

2 Poems for Earth Day, Invocation to Nature, Year of the Fire Monkey

Nature spare the big-brained ape.
Homosapiens who once challenged nature
with desire for supremacy, mindless self-advantage 
to feed bottomless appetites. 

Primate selves, echoed large as would-be Masters.
Brought low by your tiniest of creatures?
C- virus mutates faster than human minds comprehend.

No free human life or living as once were, ever again.
Quickly! From a safe distance, we play catch-up behind mounting body counts.
Mother-father nature will you banish us from this foreign world we thought was ours?
Remake us to fit your Earth.

Banish this awful virus from human bodies for a reciprocal host.
Gift us a new place in your world order.



When nonspring hop skips past non-winter,  
Suddenly stopped short for 10 degrees,
we are unused to cold.  Denial in snowed minds.
Climate change? El Nino? Farmer’s Almanac
predicted Southern comfort.
Yet what cosmic lint enshrouds
Our clarity, Oxygen,
direction home?

NASA’s in. There’s water on Mars.
Virgin Air’s got the Elite
Colonies. Science fact or
Alternate fiction? 
Is the Earth’s core solid, hollowed out,
inhabited by humanoids shy of light?
We live with low-lying slow moving masses of gray
clouds. Glimpses of true blue—
deepen past our midnight as
rockets streak through cosmic muck.

Money, sex, comfort, technology, titiilations of infinite
minds.  Finite is the unhidden truth, the stilling pulse
of a still living planet in
the Year of the Fire Monkey.
All hail our evolved primate selves, Innovative and refined.
Original, forward thinking, we pursue Excellence.
The sky’s the limit. 

Anthracite, black gold
compressed in prehistoric swamps.
Dinosaurs sucked into bog.
Humans smother snug as bugs
in China’s public square, Surrounded by
impenetrable yellow smog, people watch a
movie screen showing a lost blue sky

In New York on a PATH screen are scenes of 
previous year’s lovely snow-dusted streets.
Watched by globally warmed passengers
waiting their infinite now.
But wait!  Maybe it is El Nino?

Wherefore the Zen Circle, the Golden Mean 
to restore outsiders to the source? 
Is reclamation yet improbably possible?
Plant trees, when we need instant rain forests?
Clean oceans?  Rescue whales mysteriously beached?
Porpoises cannot escape mesh. Hope more money's 
spent on alternative than fossil fuels? Hope
our children’s children can discover 
an uncinematic blue sky,
yearn for beauty without end?

The big-brained homo sapien, like primate kin,
fights and kills for territory, food, mates.  Yet 
no other animal knowingly fouls its habitat. 
Full of inquiry, enterprise, appreciation of “perfection,”
Wardens of Paradise Lost. 
Will we ever gaze once more with astronaut eyes at 
the truly awesome breathing world?
Our Earth or in another galaxy
filled with the lucky ones not left behind?  

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches
To men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.

This is the way the world ends?  Not with a whimper but a bang?—T.S. Elliott

“Commitment is an act, not a word.—J.P. Sartre

By S.W.


Monday, March 23, 2020

WHISTLER'S MOTHER'S SON, before "flash fiction" there was Peter Cherches, innovator of the short short story

Called "one of the innovators of the short short story" by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches' Whistler's Mother's Son and Other Curiosities (3/23, Pelekinesis) is a marvel of wit an ingenuity. In this collection of short works, over 100 pieces of prose, he veers from minimalism to satire, noir to children's tale, abstraction to surrealism. Cherches' imagination takes a variety of forms; parodies, standarized tests, nursery rhymes, conundrums, rescued cliches, misbegotten mysteries, dark Americana, existential misdemeanors, optimistic nihilism and more.

Whistler's Mother's Son features material never before published, published in small magazines, and from his early Condensed Book.  Here are beloved characters; Hamlet, Gertrude Stein, Amelia Earhart, Fred Flintstone, Mr. Mondrian--hard-boiled dicks, a man with two mustaches and even a confused Peter Cherches. Though I have read Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee, Lift Your Right Arm and the recent Autobiography Without words (Pelekinesis), this collection is a surprise, fresh, exploratory and fun.  Some pieces, like Kennedy's Brain and It's Uncle, were performed by Peter and are available in recordings. His first album as a jazz singer, Mercerized!: Songs of Johnny Mercer was released in 2016.

From The Flintstones Variations

   Though undeniably a "modern stone-age kind of guy," Fred Flintstone still retains vestiges of an earlier code. While he does speak English, a sure sign of civilization, he often interjects into his speech, a particular preliterate utterance---"yabba dabba doo"?  This question has occupied the attentions of paleontologists and linguists alike for many years. What is perhaps the most plausible theory is that "yabba dabba doo" is a mating call, a holdover from a time when Man could not express his excitement in a more socially acceptable manner, such as, "Ooh baby, you really turn me on."

From The Anorexic's Feast

     An Alkaline thing happened to me on the way to the recrimination. I had left me pastitso rather early because I couldn't think, so I figured I'd go out and so some cosmetic surgery. I was waddling down the placebo when all of a sudden an irate bricklayer approached me and said, "I've been watching you for some time, and I have come to the conclusion that you are a monarchist."
     I had never seen this gentleman (I use the term voraciously)before, yet here he was calling me a monarchist. Well, what was I to abdicate?  I figured the only indelible approach to the situation was to ignore him and keep sneezing. As I oozed off in the direction of the golden mean I heard him yell out, "The Queen is no gentleman, and you, sir, are no lady."
     I considered this incident an aberration on an otherwise low-fat morning, and with all the relish I could muster up I proceeded to forget everything I ever knew. But that didn't last long, because a few nosehairs later I was reminded of an intransitive incident from my childhood...

  From Kennedy's Brain 

    I take the jar down from the shelf and stare at Kennedy's brain. Kennedy's brain. In a jar. In formaldehyde. I bought it for 3.95. I know it's not really Kennedy's brain. I;m not stupid. I know you can't get Kennedy's Brain for 3.95. It is a real brain, though. A reasonable facsimile of Kennedy's brain.
    Why do I stare at Kennedy's brain?  I loaned my guitar to Eddie, so now I stare at Kennedy's brain.
     My next door neighbors are Indians. From India. From Calcutta. They fight a lot. They make a lot of noise. I always hear them fighting when I stare at Kennedy's brain. I get off on the sound. I can't hear the words, but the sound is something else.....

     Television. It's the light. That bluish-gray light of television. Best kind of light to watch Kennedy's brain by. No sound. I've got all the sound I need. My neighbors take care of that. I just need the light. It  doesn't matter what's on. It's just got to be on.

     For me, Peter Cherches' work has been an acquired taste, it's gotten funnier with the years.
So get your taste, no time like the present, it's safe and gluten-free.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

An American immigrant family and an impossible divide, 72 MILES TO GO by Hilary Bettis at ROUNDABOUT THEATER

In 2020 ICE is a frightening fact of life for undocumented aliens, as is mistreatment at the border for asylum seekers; a far cry from "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Lazerus' poem, long part of the American creed, is a question in 2020. With the rise of the Trump administration there's a belief among his supporters that illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, are unlike "us" Americans. They are criminals, interlopers stealing our jobs/resources. Ironically, this attitude ignores the reality that hardworking immigrants fueled America's climb to the top. The politics of hate has heated up a crisis in 2020, yet as 72 MILES TO GO Shows, the huge impact of immigrant policy on families is not new.

Set in Tuscon, Arizonia in 2008-16, the fissures between legal and illegal runs through the past and future of a divided family. The deepening of the schism between the American ideal and the criminal branding is precisely detailled in this new play by Hilary Bettis, directed by JoBonney. In 90 minutes both riveting and concise, familiar exchanges of daily life indicate what's unsaid. Understatement takes on devestating significance. This excellent cast touches you with the potential and poignancy of each character. The crescendo of feeling comes as a shock.

The play begins with the father Billy (Triney Sandoval)  explaining the problems of raising kids and how you don't appreciate them until they're gone. Around him is an empty kitchen, the soul of his family. His sadness begs the question of what's missing--his wife. Billy is a man finding his way. And Sandoval loses it deftly, as the children's perspectives take shape. Rachel Hauk's set design and Lap Chi Chu's lighting design are well used to develop mood shifts and passages of time.

In this American family, Eva (Jacqueline Guillen), an uber-competent teenager, wrangles her dreamy recalcitrant brother, Aaron (Tyler Alvarez) into shape for school. She manages clean clothes and nutritious food, checks up on his homework with a concern for excellence--her own school performance. Guillen's bossy big sister is an admirable "Mother Courage," cheerfully carrying on for the missing mother.  Eva is at once herself and her mother's words--They can do well if they work hard enough. Eva's hopeful this great country she admires, where she and her brother were born, where Billy's family lived for generations, will send her mother home.

When the phone rings, she's eager to talk to mom but puts it on "speaker" to get Aaron on track. Real American dreams hang in the balance. Eva has too much to do to focus on feelings. And you root for Guillen's very smart, competent girl. Her insecurity flares around  Christian (Bobby Moreno) her older brother, though he's not home much.

A man on edge, Christian wants a legitimate job, and is tired dodging cops. He rejects Billy, as a father and a pastor. The family's bitterly divided, wounds the missing mother-wife could heal if she were there. Moreno makes you feel the pain of a life struggling against hope. But inevitably for these kids, adult decisions will make their futures and who's guiding them? Will Eva, class valedictorian, seize her chance for college? Will Alvarez' Aaron, a puppyish boy, make the surprising leap to animal biology? Will Christian, finally find DACA stability? Will the estranged Billy ever regain the love of his life? Will Anita, his missing wife (Marta Ekena Ramirez), ever be more than a voice on the phone?

72 MILES TO GO broadens the idea of a typical American family to include the harsh reality for many divided immigrant families. Aspirng to the promise of America, they face a present of deferred dreams and yet are nutured by the love they share. This is a very moving play written with beautiful understated language. The  note-perfect cast is a pleasure to watch.  Roundabout's Laura Pels theater has given us a family play for these times.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

GHOST WALTZ, Volume 1: NYC, Acquainted With the Night, Photo essay by Diana Rivera

Photo Essay. I love photography that begins where words
 leave off. This work is visual poetry, evoking feelings and sight 
below the surface of consciousnes, while showing what we think
we know in one moment of time. Begin this walk. This
is an excerpt of a longer series to be savored some night.

On a Darkened Night, SoHo 2018

GHOST WALTZ, Volume 1: "Acquainted With the Night" by Diana A. Rivera

New York City's architecture is full of layers of history. Rabid development continues to destroy historical buildings at an unprecedented rate. My current urban photography series Ghost Waltz was born from searching for New York City's past eras before they vanish. This series explores different neighborhoods and their singular atmospheres; Downtown’s gritty patrician buildings; Midtown’s unearthly heights; Uptown’s broad swathes of recognizable yet hidden historical elegance. With influences such as Brassaï, silent films and spirituality, I photograph the city in a manner that recalls modernist, early 20th century photography. The view is familiar and otherworldly, as layers of the past come forward; the present recedes in an insubstantial instant.

Toward the Light, 8th Ave., 2018

With Volume 1, I examine the overwhelming psychic effect of being inside “the belly of the beast” through the juxtaposition of shadows with light, movement with static, and silhouette with semblance. Shot on 35mm monochrome film. the grain reflects the grittiness of the urban landscape and the resulting existential crisis one may encounter in such a mystifying environment. Silhouettes walk towards city lights; lone figures that whose alienation emphasizes the dissonance of city life as they walk amid historical structures whose decorative elements seem alien in a modern world built of cold glass and hard steel. Through this lens I analyze the theory that human beings are in their essence living spirits — ephemera within the continuum of time and space.

Silhouette, Irving Place, Union Square 2018

The title of Volume 1 is taken by a poem from Robert Frost, which best encapsulates the atmosphere of this work:

“Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.”

Under the Neon Light, 9th Street 2018

Beyond the Smoke, Washington Square 2018

Diana A. Rivera is an American photographer whose distinctive imagery explores the existential concepts of isolation, dislocation, and mortality in the modern world. Born in 1981, Diana is a self-taught photographer whose original academic discipline was fashion design and illustration. Inspired by her late father, Sucre, she picked up the camera in 2011. This interest led her to a business in event photography, where she spent 8 years observing and capturing intimate moments at high energy events. Her switch to artistic photography began in 2017 with her inaugural work Catharsis: She Moon. In Catharsis, Diana documents performance artists in a rehearsal for a one night only show that tells the feminist tale of society's persecution of queer people using magic and paganism. This body of work remains resonant with the current zeitgeist.

Branching from digital, Diana has embraced traditional 35mm and medium format photography, along with traditional and alternative darkroom processes. Influenced by the New York School photographers of the mid-20th century,  she embarked on her ongoing project Ghost Waltz in 2018; a work on 35mm film that searches for the atmosphere of the past within the rapidly changing metropolis. Capturing haunting night-time scenes that are at once arresting and disorienting, her photographs reveal the many historic layers of the urban landscape, reminding us that existence is ephemera within the dimension of time and space. She is currently working on a series of Requiems as part of Ghost Waltz; homages to immortal men and women who have left an eternal imprint on the historical psyche of New York City and its inhabitants.

Diana still lives and works in New York City. Her work can be found on her website and LensCulture.