Short Story Review: “Less Than Zombie” by Douglas E. Winter

Less Than ZombieLess Than Zombie by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This tale responds to the Post-Modern classic, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel. Perhaps it makes this tale too narrowly aimed for the literary critic. Reading Ellis’ novel first isn’t necessary, but recognizing where it’s coming from helps.

Ellis’ novel incorporates all of the depraved and callous decadence of works like William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which depicts the sexually loose and drug infused world of the fringe beats drifting between Europe and North Africa in the 1960s and applies it to the 1980s teen culture of urban and suburban upper middle class America which saw heroin epidemics around Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Both novels offered POVs through the lens of shifting drug hazes, loose fluid graphic sex and sexuality, prostitution, rape, snuff films and dead bodies. Both were received incredulously by those who couldn’t fathom what could bring society to this lowered state.

An answer is provided in this short tale, in which the speaker and his social circle are beyond jaded one year into a zombie apocalypse. Written in the style of Ellis’ novel, scenes are lifted from the novel and overlaid with undead, albeit without the tongue-in-cheek of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies turn on Jane Austen’s more famous novel.

Does this take somehow lessen Ellis’ work? Yes and no. Yes, in that it provides a more palatable reason [zombies] for the decadence than the practically “no reason at all” in the original. The original is so shocking that it isn’t believed by many to be possible. But I vote, “No.” This doesn’t lessen Ellis’ work. It shows the door that would send much of society down this very route. Zombies as a genre have evolved from tales of ghouls without social implications into complex social commentaries showing the tenuous hold on civility that actually exists. One hurricane, one riot, and an entire social structure can crumble. Humanity has shown this repeatedly.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: A Condensation of Maps

A Condensation of MapsA Condensation of Maps by Roberto Carache Flores
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flores’ poems excavate exact moments with short, ephemeral lines, like the teasing of minute threads to open a knot. The consistently short lines don’t always work, but when they do the result is exquisite. Sometimes the result is simple and precise. [From “El Tunco”]

and a violet sun
going down
on the sea
until it
got dark.

At other times, a subtle complexity layers up. [From “Nyack Blues”]

The shadows / of cocktail dresses, / rolled up sleeves, / silky scarves, / and armpit stains / have slow danced away, / held up close / by autumn’s breeze. //
He’s kept / track of time, / how it ticks / to the clicks / of pointy heels, / revolving doors, / cell phone calls, / packed taxi cabs, / and all things closed.

It is hard not to think of the deceptive simplicity of a haiku in stanzas like, “The frogs / begin to undress / the night’s / silence / with the / innocence / of their / early croaks.” [from “Friends in Rio Sapo”], and “Remember how / you crossed / the green hill crests / with a steel wool kite / tied around your ankles, / while frantically chasing / the scent of an underground fire / you thought long gone?” [from “Leaving Perquin”].

The forward by Dink Press founder and editor, Kristopher D. Taylor, compares the poetics to “a surrealist Williams, or perhaps Lorca.” Where the surrealism emerges (and it does), it most closely reminds me of Gregory Corso’s “Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway.” This was especially true of the first in a three-poem series spread through the chapbook that revolves around two characters, “X” and “O”. [From “XO”]

X said O got caught / hawk watching / in a vacant spider web. // O said X should / run wild among / the most silent of does. . .

. I preferred the lovely sentiments expressed in the poem “X,” in which O has written a letter to X.

I hope your
inner strings
no longer feel
by the past,
to touch.

I hope they’ve
into ivy
or can flutter
to make

I enjoyed this collection and look forward to future works by Flores. I received this chapbook directly from Dink Press and Kristopher D. Taylor for the purpose of reviewing it.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Canon-Fodder Friday: Poetry

Today I’d like to consider and open up a discussion on what should be the educational canon for poetry. This is to build on last week’s consideration of the Literary Canon. This list is severely skewed toward English language poets and especially American poets, so please insert your opinion with full force.

In general, poetry gets unequal coverage in our school system. However, it deserves its rightful place in the canon. I largely want to consider the poetry of the part 150 years so we can optimistically assume that Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats and Browning have been covered. My question is: what about when it veers modern, with use of free verse and open verse, from the Victorian practices? [By this definition, Tennyson and Dickinson are Victorian.]

Here’s my list for our Poetry Top Ten, or Verse: Walt Whitman to Today–

1) Walt Whitman–Song of Myself
2) Robert Frost–“Mending Wall”, “The Road Not Taken”, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”
3) William Carlos Williams–“The Ivy Crown”, “The Red Wheelbarrow”, “This Is Just to Say”, “Poem”
4) T. S. Eliot–“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “The Wasteland”
5) e. e. cummings–“in Just-“, “next to of course god america i”, “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r”, “anyone lived in a pretty how town”
6) Rainer Maria Rilke–Duino Elegies
7) Wallace Stevens–“Anecdote of the Jar”, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
8) Sylvia Plath–“Daddy”, “The Edge”, “Lady Lazarus”, “The Colossus”,
9) Allen Ginsberg–Howl and Other Poems
10) Ntozake Shange–for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf

I’ve tried to list poets that changed the face of poetry. Yes, the list could easily have been double in length. But what are your thoughts?

Also, check out the further additions of Canon-Fodder Fridays:
March 20th– World Lit. Canon [Lorca, Camus, Chekhov . . .]
March 27th– Non-fiction Canon and Other [plays, graphic novels etc.]

Review: Peter Orlovsky, A Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer by Peter Orlovsky edited by Bill Morgan

Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat WriterPeter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer by Peter Orlovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of poems, letters and journals entries with a few random photos thrown in was not what I expected it to be. That leaves me disappointed, but the fault is mine. Bill Morgan is an archivist and this is nothing if not an archive. It’s just not much more than that.

Peter Orlovsky, as Allen Ginsberg’s companion and lover for over 40 years, was in the thick of the Beat Movement and chronicling his experiences in his journal for much of it. Through his eyes and voice, the travels and musings of many key figures in the movement are witnessed extensively: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, and Neal Cassady. As Ann Charters notes in the Foreward, “For literary historians, Peter’s account of his daily life with Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, and Burroughs is probably the most detailed we will ever have.” Also seen are a lot of drugs, sex and jazz/rock-n-roll/punk. These are the key figures and key subjects that the movement is known for. In a more conservative time, the beats pushed the envelope and were open and experimental with their drugs and their sexuality both in words and action:

[excerpt from a Nov. 03, 1958 letter from Peter Orlovsky to Gregory Corso] ” . . . Jack [Kerouac] has been banging us [Orlovsky and Ginsberg] for being queers–especially when he’s drunk–so I, when Jack comes on like this, go after Jack with outpouring of love and raping him with words. . . . A few days ago . . . [Bach] was playing and such beautiful music that we all danced to it and it was so beautiful I started to blow Allen and Jack [was] sitting there–Allen was so scared and shy in front of Jack that he wanted to go into the other room, but I wanted to blow Allen while he danced to beautiful music, so angel magical it sounded–I’m tired of being afraid of Jack and shying my words up . . . “

Undoubtedly, for those interested in the lives of the Beats, this scrap book of letters and journals will satisfy. It also gives almost equal time to Peter’s letters and journals to and about his family which proved to be illuminating. The book starts with Peter at 21, months before meeting Allen. He’s been discharged from the army as psychologically unfit citing “schizophrenia, paranoid.” His parents have split while each spending time in psychiatric hospitals. Eventually, Peter and all four siblings of his will spend time in psychiatric hospitals. Terms such as frontal lobotomy and electroshock therapy get thrown around. Needless to say, Peter is not exactly stable before he starts to experiment with, use and abuse drugs.

I was disappointed, however, because I wanted to see the letters and poetry contextualized. I did not want this book to be a companion. We see the letters that Peter wrote, but none of the replies, nothing written to him. I don’t want to have to look up the letters to Peter to fill in the conversations. This was especially true of the poetry. I wanted to see the poetics at work. The Beats changed the game with poetry; they broke and re-wrote the rules. Peter was there when Allen wrote and read Howl for the first time. Peter also later lectured on poetry. But, no copies of a single lecture are included. What he had to say on the subject of poetics is conspicuously missing. Charters wrote that Peter inspired Beat writers with his “emotionally naked, loopy, and occasionally luminescent poetry,” while Morgan wrote that Peter “failed to realize that each of those writers had been influenced by knowing Peter and witnessing his free-spirited way of approaching life.” Not one example of another writer citing Orlovsky’s poetry or stylings is included. Morgan also tells the reader that Orlovsky’s handwriting was atrocious and spelling horrendous, leading to much re-editing [and guessing] on his part to create readable text. I think a single image of an Orlovsky original would make that point. But none are included. Finally, in a note on a journal entry deemed a prose-poem, Morgan says that the entry was later turned into verse and then back into a prose-poem. I would have appreciated the inclusion of those later iterations, but they too are not included.

This book does exactly what it sets out to do: be a scrapbook for Orlovsky’s journals and letters. It does not do what I had hoped, but I may not be the target audience. My Master’s is in Creative Writing Poetry, so I am interested in the poetics, the philosophy, the lectures and the process. In particular, my undergraduate thesis was on the “transformations of American poetics” coming out of WWII. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was my main case study. I was not interested in drug-fueled three-ways . . . but that is what this book has to offer. I received an uncorrected first proof of this book and a nice letter from Paradigm Publishers through Goodreads. Hopefully, that did not taint my view.
[Check out my other reviews here.]