Month: August 2009

Where I Stay

stay_front_cover-550wHow to impress me:

  • Do something new.
  • Do something unexpected.
  • Break with convention.
  • Do it well.

Andrew Zornoza‘s photo novel, Where I Stay, does all of these things and more, so, needless to say, I’m very impressed with it. In a nutshell, the book is about an unnamed wanderer traveling through the Great American West. To say it’s “about” a wanderer, however, is to belie the book’s complexity. As with Cesca Janece Waterfield’s Bartab, Where I Stay leaves to the reader much of the work of stitching together a narrative. Throughout the proceedings, Zornoza provides the reader with snatches from the wanderer’s life — a day on the road, for example, or a moment shared with a stranger — along with a series of photographs and their captions. Sometimes the photos complement the text. Other times, the connection may not be so apparent. The end result is that the reader is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the book, and each successive reading has the potential to carry with it new meaning.

As haunting as it is gritty, Where I Stay has the feel of an impressionist watercolor and underscores the value of the small press in literary culture. Indeed, I hesitate to simply call it a book; its ambitions, beautifully realized, make it a hybrid of textual and visual arts. Like all of my favorite works of art, Where I Stay has the capacity to evoke something akin to an out of body experience, to propel the reader into unfamiliar territory and, in so doing, to make the quotidian world new again upon the reader’s return. To put it more plainly, Zornoza’s talent is to take us out of our day to day lives and to show us the world from a new perspective that allows us to see our own lives in a new, ever-shifting light.

If I have one suggestion for Zornoza, it’s to implore his publisher, Tarpaulin Sky Press, to come out with a deluxe edition of this book. While the photographs that appear throughout the current edition are certainly compelling, I can only imagine what a glossy, high-resolution edition might look like. Yes, the volume may be a bit pricey, but this is art we’re talking about. And who can put a price on that?*

*In all fairness to Tarpaulin Sky, a book like this would likely be cost-prohibitive. But wouldn’t it be nice if small presses everywhere had the resources to sink into such projects?

Bartab

bartabTowards the end of Cesca Janece Waterfield‘s evocative new novel in poems, Bartab: An After Hours Ballad, the poet offers us “True Story,” a piece that tellingly captures the essence of the book in a thousand words or less. Here, protagonist Evie stumbles home to her boyfriend after a long night of drinking, proud of herself for having gotten all of the previous night’s drinks for free. What she’s done to get those drinks, we’re never told, but we can draw our own conclusions based on the rest of the book. A self-described artisitc iconoclast who’s “so original” that she can’t make a living, Evie spends her days and nights self-medicating in a variety of different ways–booze, sex, and drugs chief among them. Yet she also yearns for a life of bourgeois simplicity, as demonstrated by her purchase (and subsequent loss) of a set of ivory-colored sheets with periwinkle dots. Her dream is to save some money, to buy a van, to make a home with her boyfriend, yet the real world keeps getting in the way. There are bills to pay and eviction notices to deny. Then there are the hazy memories of nights lost to Evie’s vices of choice, and the dream predictably, yet no less tragically, starts to dissolve. The narrator’s desperation is palpable as she repeats her tragic chorus at the conclusion of “True Story”: “I have no idea where those sheets got to.”

As a “novel in poems,” Bartab can do a lot of things that a traditional narrative can’t do. For one thing, the format allows Waterfield to create a pitch-perfect reproduction of the fragmentary nature of memory–particularly when large quantities of alcohol are involved. As the novel progresses, its poetic form allows Waterfield to take us from point A to point B without connecting all of the dots; that work is left to the reader in much the same way the work of connecting the blurred fragments of her life is left to Bartab‘s tragic protagonist. All of this is to say that the book’s form is perfectly suited to its content. Gritty, desperate, passionate, and heartfelt, Bartab is a must-read for the poet in all of us.

Zonetrooper: Issue 2

Zonetrooper2A while back, I reported on a new sci-fi/fantasy/RPG magazine called Zonetrooper, and I’m pleased to say that editor Joseph Shover has returned with a second issue, which represents an improvement over the inaugural issue (which was admittedly a good start!). This time around, the zine perfect-bound with a slick cover and features the return of Cronac the Temporal Enforcer, another installment of Major Tom’s Journal (both products of Shover’s fertile imagination), and the manga-style adventure comic strip Cygann, deftly written and illustrated by Stacy Gaston. A major highlight of this issue is a profile of comic book artist Uko Smith, and commentator Molly Durst offers some insights on the art of attending sci-fi conventions in a witty and enlightening fashion. Also from Durst is a “Promo Mini Issue” of the comic strip Symphony of the Universe. Rounding thigs out are a report on the computer game Manila, a highly inventive if somewhat dark RPG module titled “The World of Tas’col,” and a short story from Nathan Goff about a drug runner pondering retirement. In short, no sophopmore slump here! To peruse the latest edition of Zonetrooper, visit the zine’s storefront at Lulu.com.