Saturday, February 27, 2021

Chapbooks that make you laugh at the dark. BAMBOO DART Press reinvents the Chapbook with PELEKINESIS. Review LIFE, Orange to Pear, The Loss Detector, Five Ghost Stories

What is a Chapbook? I always thought of it as poetry, printed on vellum with letterpress and largely undistributed beyond poetry community. According to Wikipedia:  "A chapbook is a small publication of up to about 40 pages, sometimes bound with a saddle stitch. In early modern Europe a chapbook was a type of printed street literature."

These prose chapbooks by BAMBOO DART PRESS may be a 2021 version of "street literature".  Attractive to hold in your hand, around 45 pages, they offer a meaningful, even inspiring read. But can these books be long enough to deliver that experience?  In these disconnected days of isolation, I enjoyed the humor and wonder in these books.   

John Brantingham is a poet, novelist, essayist and foremost in this book, a man who remembers being a kid and profound moments, like peeling an orange. He also shows what it's like to have a child and respect their framework to the ambiguous world you share. Why would the tooth fairy sneak into houses looking for body parts?  Is Santa a weirdo?  Yet the subject of this book is spiritual "home"  divine sensations--the smell of that orange, the feel of it's skin; the redemptive taste of a pear. In 45 pages of insightful prose, you go through a man's life events and sensations. Here is confusion, pain and joy; all normal and sublime. 

Meg Pokrass' book is called a Novella-in-Flash. Her Flash Fiction is inspired but it's interesting to read longer work. Wither her weird, funny sensibility Pokrass  tells the story of a family break-up and a young girl's coping as "the loss detector." Nikki's jokes are serious questions. In "Dad's Ears", she wonders if  having small ears really means you can't be trusted? Then she and her brother Josh, who may be autistic or crazy or both,  move with their mom from their East coast life to the Monterey Apts in California. As their mother morphs into a driven blonde real estate agent, and Josh is in and out of schools, Nikki begins to get a sense of  what holds them together. 

  • D

Dennis Callaci is both a musician and a writer. His Five Ghost Stories are a wonder of  meditative  precision. Characters have an unsettling sense of  "deja vu," human ghosts living in a foreign present. In isolation, they are less witnesses to their lives than to what "real"  life once was. I found The Cemetery of Calendar Days to be the most chilling.  Here's the opening: 

Be careful tonight. My wife cupped my ears with her hands, a kiss on the way out the door. There had been seven in the last month in my line including two colleagues I was close to. Down the steps, "Be careful honey, I love you." I took her car tonight with three quarters of a tank, I didn't want to risk any stop this evening that I needn't make. An oldie flashes out with ignition from the stereo, Too Real by Fontaines D.CThe two of us worked hard to keep a sense of normalcy not only for our family, but the neighborhood as well...

I kept thinking of early Twilight Zone.  But the "Model Home" is a kid's assembly project of Dracula's Castle,  "Michael's" is a meat market, gag worthy smells and metaphysical revulsion. "Sundowner" was funny, in the way of Beckett's old men. Here's the first sentence. I'm no longer who I was. I tried hard to remember who that had been for a good long while, couldn't quite reckon with it, but I know it's true. 

"Five Ghost Stories" by Dennis Callaci

These stories were fascinating, because they addressed the feelings behind so many thoughts in this plague time. They made me laugh at the dark.  A bargain at 7.99 , For more info: 

Bamboo Dart Press. "A collaborative marriage of Pelekinesis and Shrimper Records whose aim is to allow writers and artists to godspeed works into the physical world without the hoops and machinery of manufacturing that slow the process of finished to physical work in the world of books and LPs that are the day jobs of the two parent companies." 


Saturday, February 6, 2021

MARVELOUS LANDSCAPES at, gallery and online show- how humans see infinite nature in individual ways

I am a lover of landscapes. I have painted them in oils, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils, ink, even collage and the results vary with mood and the weather--often the same.  I have spent many hours in the same place at the same time. Losing myself in a scene is essential, whether finished from a photo later or not. I've been told that losing awareness of time and self, while completely focused on an external scene is outward meditation. Whatever you call it. Landscape artists often exchange knowing looks about how good it feels to paint nature, especially outside.

When a friend told me she had a photograph in Las Laguna Gallery's landscape show, I was curious about the work. Here were landscapes, seascapes, dreamscapes in paint, acrylic, wax, pastel, gauche, prints, pottery, photographs, (digital prints, silverpoint and images mixed with paint.). Whether literal or abstract, engineered or imagined ,work seemed to glory less in human perception than the unknowable mystery of nature.

I also liked the gallery's strategy for showing work, both democratic and practical. They choose a small group of featured artists whose work is shown both in the physical gallery (by appointment) and online with  a large online group. All artists pay 35.00 to submit 3 pieces but are guaranteed one will be in the online show. They might also be featured. It's the usual 60/40 gallery split but artists can also choose NFS (not for sale).

Below are ones I liked, though you might choose others. Since "like" is a useless meme these days, I have added some thoughts. But there were a lot of deserving work. Shows on themes are changed monthly, so  go soon to if you want to see LANDSCAPES. 

FEATURED, Joe A, Oakes' Sunset Path acrylic top, Jacqueline Clary's Conversation bottom , acrylic

Oakes' Sunset Path uses acrylics for vivid colors and textures smooth enough for this imagery to be airbrushed or a seriograph print. The Path looks manmade, whether it started as a natural grove on eitherside of a gulley or not. The technique matches the mystery of the subject. The shadows--layered and unruly and full of emotional content are a moving contrast. and focus of this painting.

Jacqueline Clarey's Conversation seems commentary in this Covid time of isolation. The empty chairs appear stand-ins for missing people. The background of trees and foliage is more varied and alive than the inert though strangely articulate furniture. Differently positioned  chairs hint at what's missing--human personality, And the gray color is alive; touched with blue shadow or by the sun. This painting paining touched me.. 

Online show
includes below, Yuqiao Guo's Valley oil pastel, Canoglu Perihan's Golden Deers acrylic, Sarah Drummond's Lingering Light linocut reduced print. 

Valley is a marvel of oil pastel, a medium given to muddy colors and anything but controlled textures, at least in my hands. I'm not bad with pastel, but this oil pastel painting (on canvas) is remarkable for building clear luminous  textured areas with subtle color gradations. There is no watercolor but there  are puddles here and where the sun hits, land is golden.  This is a "magical" place.

Shall I talk about these decorative almost animated looking deer and the  "golden mean" snail shapes surrounding them? With antlers these Golden Deers connect heaven and Earth (assuming the blue section is ocean? I have no idea what this signifies but really enjoyed  this playful lovely work. 
    Lingering Light manages to be precise and beautiful. Eerie light makes a seascape suddenly lunar and transcendent. It hopscotches from sun to water and illuminates in foreground what could be water, trash or silvery rocks. Nature is alien in a cartoony style that amazed me technically. A linocut reduced print is actually a linoleum block. This artist is extraordinary, managing such delicacy and humor, hinting at sci fiction in this work. 

Diana Rivera's Lonely bike on side street, Greenwich Village, 2011
Silver gelatin print. A cityscape, unlike land or seascapes, is a world built for people, where nature seems secondary. In this cityscape, trees and streetlamps arch together toward the sky forming an erratic bower. The presence of a lone chained bike without handle bars to steer, appears more human than a barely visible person blending in with the end of the street. There is a pathos to that abandoned bike. I have seen that street in spring when those trees have flowers and never saw that bike, a common sight in 2011. Takes a great photograph to bring back erased time with emotion. This is silverpoint, a slow process that articulates the tones, the whites so nuanced in this photo--Prosaic and singular.


Monday, January 4, 2021

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, 2020 National Book Award Winner, story of Asian immigrant's "Script" in U.S., the "yellow" in a cop show entitled "Black and White."

INTERIOR CHINATOWN Charles Yu's amazing novel, enacts the life of bit part actor, Willis Wu ,and his (and his family's experiences) within the context of "Black and White," a TV crime show. In this show, as in  the world outside "The Golden Palace" (home and workplace of generations of Chinese immigrants) the "yellow" of Asian Americans is always a stereotypical character, exotic background color, a plot device; never just a regular American of Asian descent. Yet in Willis' world, people are constantly striving for their American dream. Children all get  4.0 and above. Yet no matter how they succeed in school and for how long (generations) they are still treated as outsiders. Many end up back where they grew up, at a "The Golden Palace" restaurant job. 

With great humor, INTERIOR CHINATOWN creates Wu's layered reality.  His family also played the bit parts, his dad even hit the top role, Kung Fu Master. Behind that inscrutable Chinese, was a forgotten academically gifted past. His mother's "pretty hostess" kept the family afloat for years, and, though he wanted to be Kung Fu, she told him he could do better. And he did with his 4.0, yet had to polish his immigrant accent to get work on the show.  

One day he meets a Chinese- American of mixed race,  and on the show there's a chance of Kung Fu Master, though not a role  as a real Chinese person.  What happens to Willis' sense of self, when the script and his circumstances change for alternatives he'd never considered? Can he assimilate  a character he's never played, as an Asian and a man? 

I found this novel entertaining, touching, and often unexpected. Loved the formats Willis uses to tell his true-life reality show. No movie could be as unique. I completely enjoyed the visit. Below are some excerpts. Glad to see INTERIOR CHINATOWN won an award. It's original,  resembles nothing else.






Kung Fu: (Moderate Proficiency)

Fluent in Accented English

Able to do Face of Great Shame on command


Disgraced son

Delivery Guy

Silent Henchman

Caught Between Two Worlds

Guy Who Runs in and Gets Kicked in the Face

Striving Immigrant

Generic Asian Man



In the world of Black and White, everyone starts out as Generic Asian Man. Everyone who looks like you, anyway. Unless you are a woman, in which case you start out as Pretty Asian Woman.

You all work at Golden Palace, formerly jade Palace of Good Fortune. There's an aquarium in the front and cloudy tanks of rock crabs and two pound lobsters crawling over each other in the back. Laminated menus offer the lunch special, which comes with a bowl of fluffy white rice and choice of soup, egg drop or hot and sour. A neon Tsingtao sign blinks and buzzes behind the bar in the dimly lit space, a dropped-ceiling room with lacquered ornate woodwork (or some imitation thereof), everything simmering in a warm seedy red glowthrown off by the dollar store paper lanterns festooned above, many of them darkened by dead moths, the paper yellowing, ripped, curling in on itself...


Take what you

    can get.

Try to build

      a life.

    A life

    at the 


made from 

bit parts.


Your mother has played, in no particular order:

Pretty Oriental Flower

Asiatic Seductress

Young Dragon Lady

Slightly Less Young Dragon Lady

Restaurant Hostess

Girl with the Almond Eyes

Beauitful Maiden Number One

Dead beautiful Maiden Number One

Old Asian Woman

bit parts


Your father has been, at various times:

Twin Dragon

Wizened Chinaman

Guy in a Soiled T-shirt

Inscrutable grocery owner (in a soiled t-shirt)

Egg Roll Cook

Young Asian Man

Sifu, the Mysterious Kung Fu Master

Old Asian Man