Review of “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson

 

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Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts comes at a time when mainstream queer culture is all about resisting definitions. Refusing to apply clear and concise labels to oneself can be both a radical act and a way to walk the middle ground without having to declare open support for any community except for the self. At its core, The Argonauts is about walking that middle line and combining dichotomies to achieve a creamy middle. In it, Nelson explores gender, sexuality, and motherhood in a fluid, stream of consciousness style that transitions from one subject to another, curling back on itself occasionally to show the interconnectedness of these issues.

At the heart of the book is Nelson’s relationship with Harry Dodge, an artist. Near the beginning, she says, “Before we met, I had spent a lifetime devoted to Wittgenstein’s idea that the inexpressible is contained—inexpressibly!—in the expressed.” Nelson implies that the reason she writes is to express the inexpressible through words, even though they can never quite do the job. On the other hand, when she describes the passionate arguments she had with Dodge on the subject, she says, “Once we name something, you said, we can never see it the same way again. All that is unnamable falls away, gets lost, is murdered.” This reflects the combining of public and private spheres mentioned throughout the narrative.

As a memoirist, Nelson has a desire to express the inexpressible parts of private life, from the act of fishing inedible foods out of her son’s mouth to, at the climax, how it felt to give birth. As the book goes on, she does a similar thing with Dodge, revealing more and more of him beyond his gender identity until Dodge himself writes his own story of seeing his mother when she was dying of cancer, intertwined with Nelson’s recount of the birth.

The public and private becoming one is no strange thing to people in the queer community. Some of the most private things, one’s sense of gendered self and one’s romantic and sexual affections, become wildly, terribly public, often with steep consequences. As Nelson notes, once a person is seen as “queer,” that signifier is all some people think about when considering them and their work. This goes both for the straight, cisgendered population as well as the queer community. When a queer person reads a book by another queer person, the tendency is to look for the hidden clues and try to identify with all of them, essentially making the work again about the author’s identity.

Nelson recognizes this, and sets forth to craft a story that both validates her and her partner’s queer identities while making them a facet of their whole. She talks about the association of pregnancy with heteronormativity and poses the question:  when does queer stop being radical and just become a part of a person’s identity? Can an issue that’s been so public for so long finally move to a wholly private sphere? Should it be wholly private? Throughout the book Nelson grapples with these questions, detailing small anecdotes of her life, intertwining them and presenting them as the expressions of the inexpressible.


Maggie_Nelson.bw_1024x1024Maggie Nelson is the author of Bluets (Wave Books, 2009), Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (University of Iowa Press, 2007), The Red Parts: A Memoir (Free Press, 2007), The Art of Cruelty (WW Norton, 2011), and The Argonauts (Graywolf, 2015). Nelson is also the author of several books of poetry, including Something Bright, Then Holes (Soft Skull Press, 2007), Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull, 2005), The Latest Winter (Hanging Loose Press, 2003) and Shiner (Hanging Loose, 2001). Nelson currently lives in Los Angeles where she teaches on the BFA and MFA faculty of the School of Critical Studies at California Institute of the Arts.


About the author of this post:  Hope Kennedy is a sophomore at North Central College, where she’s studying English and Management. Likes include writing, cats, and sleeping in on rainy days. Dislikes include inaccurate movies based on good books, the sound people make when they chew ice, and that awkward smile you exchange with a stranger when you make eye contact.

Review of “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” by Patricia Lockwood

Poet Patricia Lockwood has received a deluge of positive reviews for her work, and 2014’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals will fare no differently. The new poetry collection features poems such as “Is Your Country as He or She in Your Mouth” – the poem from which Lockwood takes the name of the book – “The Fake Tears of Shirley Temple,” and, her viral sensation, “Rape Joke.” The cover art is an original work of cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt, the same artist used for Lockwood’s first publication. The two-tonal, white and green jacket art features an all-white silhouette of a hybrid human-deer, featuring two sets of sharp antlers, fanged teeth and a wiry tongue. This is set upon a heavily blue-green backdrop splattered with crude, toon-like details of leaves. This, along with the haunting title, sets the mood for Lockwood’s strange and elusive poetry; a mood that is tense with the unification of nature and sexuality, the human and the inhuman.

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Lockwood is unbelievably frank in her metaphoric and sometimes literal language. Her ability to marry the natural with the unnatural is as seamless as turning a deer into a porn star. Equally praiseworthy is her integration of pop culture into works that seem to belong in a culture all their own. In “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” she writes “Every deer gets called Bambi at least once in its life, every deer must answer to Bambi.” Conjuring up images of childhood films, and walks in the woods, Lockwood twists the childhood imagery. The seemingly universal deer nickname suddenly becomes a frightening call to the loss of innocence.

Her viral sensation, “Rape Joke,” lives up to its fame. The irony of the piece is in the writer’s moment of worry that all she’d be known for was the poem about the rape joke.   Stylistically, the poem is denser than many of her others, less lyrical, and more like prose-poetry. Almost every line begins: “The rape joke is”, a statement that readies the reader for the following definitions of the rape joke itself. Lockwood often personifies objects and abstractions in her poetry, and the rape joke hauntingly takes the identity of the rapist himself, a chilling move which resonates through the rest of the book. She writes, “The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.” But, whether or not Lockwood is sincere in her fear “Rape Joke” becoming her signature work, it seems it already is. Rape Joke was selected to be in The Best American Poetry 2014 and won the Pushcart Prize, awarded to poetry, essays and small fictions etc., published in small presses.

Lockwood should rejoice; “Rape Joke” and her collection are worthy of any bookshelf for their strange charms and cultural appeal alone. The poetry in this collection is beautiful, dreamlike, and startling like a nightmare, all qualities which amount to some of the loveliest poetry conceived in the last few years.


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Patricia Lockwood’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Tin House, and Poetry. She is the author of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black (Octopus Books, 2012), Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (Penguin Books, 2014), and the viral internet sensation “Rape Joke” (The Awl, 2013).


 

About the author of this post: Ryann Overstreet is a junior at North Central College where she studies Writing and Philosophy. She has two orange cats that she is obsessed with and eats a box of pasta a day.

 

Review of “Street Art” by Loft Publications

In the pages of Street Art, the reader will find thousands of unique, colorful, visually pleasing paintings by both known and unknown artists. Often times, these complex paintings appear on walls, billboards, trains, rock cliffs, under bridges, and on buses, with no one knowing who put them there. Some paintings may take up the entire side of a building, while others are just a small section of the object they are placed on. Loft Publications collected samples of graffiti and street art from all over the world, and created a large visual catalog with an illustrative selection of diverse talent that floods today’s streets. The artwork can be found in cities including, but not limited to, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, and Paris. Street Art contains sections on 3-D, wild style, tags, stencils, and stickers giving the reader an overview of the various types of artwork that appear throughout urban landscapes in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Loft Publications states, “…street art is uncontrollable. Its creators are rebellious, selfish, arrogant, stubborn, individualistic and gregarious all at the same time.” The book mentions that many people classify street art as vandalism or graffiti and not art, even though the word “art” is in its name. The beauty of many of these paintings is often overlooked because they are created in public places without permission, and while breaking the law. Many of these artists are self-taught and showcase their talent knowing it will be washed away within days. The authors of Street Art also say, “Some (artists) are more stubborn than others. Not all of them are so disgusted with the traditional art world. But they all have come from the street. From the world of street art and graffiti. These works can be exhibited in galleries, but they do not belong there: the canvases are pieces of concrete plucked temporarily from their natural surroundings. In this respect, this book embodies The Resistance.”

Street Art loosely classifies the artwork into three chapters: letters and tags, pieces, and street art. Each includes a brief overview on the artwork in each chapter.  “Letters and Tags” includes a wide variety of figurative and abstract typography. These tags are often signatures of the graffiti artist. Some of the tags are almost unreadable, hiding in the shapes and colors they are made of. Others are crisp and three-dimensional or bubbly looking. Some of these tags include symbols, cartoon animals, and popular cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, Captain America, Spiderman, Wolverine, Mr. Burns, Mario, and Luigi. Many are so complex, it makes you wonder how someone can visualize and create something so flawless while secretly painting at night with cans of colorful spray paint.

The second chapter, “Pieces,” includes the evolution of artwork after various sizes of spray paint nozzles were developed. This allowed artists to create thicker and thinner lines, which is no longer restricted their artwork to letters and simple designs. In this section there are a number of works portraying popular culture, which contains symbols, portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and material items. Many of these paintings are highly detailed and realistic. Also included in this chapter are many large-scale murals that were less likely to be seen in previous decades.

The final chapter, “Street Art,” is a collection of works that portray many of the latest trends of graffiti art. The artworks include the use of stencils, which allow the same symbol to be repeated as many times as the artist would like, in a variety of places. In addition, there are stickers which let the artists put their paintings on street poles and other places that weren’t previously possible. Some artists use canvas, which lets the artwork be transferred to a gallery instead of being washed away.

Understandably, there is not much information about these works of art. Throughout the book, there is a URL above each image which links to where the images were found online and possibly the name of the piece and whoever posted the photo. Loft Publications stated that these works were from cities around the world. By viewing some of them, I could tell that they are; however, the city of origin was not listed for any of the artwork in the book. Some may argue that the lack of information leaves these paintings more open to interpretation, but knowing the place and/or date of where each photo was taken could allow the viewer to better interpret the paintings, especially the ones that include messages from political movements.

This book is a great source for artists, designers, and typographers to look to find a variety of styles of artwork for inspiration. Anyone who doesn’t know much about art but likes viewing it will also greatly appreciate this book. The artwork in this book will blow you away if you go into it open minded, and not with the mindset that these artists vandalized the streets in city of which they are found. The content of its pages is unique and eye opening for someone who doesn’t realize how big street art is throughout the world.


About the author of this post: Katie Connors is a senior at North Central College. She is pursuing a degree in Interactive Media Studies: Graphic Arts. Other interests of hers include drawing, painting, hiking in pretty places, and learning about wildlife.

Review of “We Are Called to Rise” by Laura McBride

Laura McBride’s first novel, We Are Called to Rise is populated with rich and complex characters, and a setting that reflects the contradictions of life—that there can be something wonderful underneath the guise of filth, and vice versa. Las Vegas is typically seen as just The Strip, a place where prostitution is legal and there are strippers galore. However, the truth McBride reveals is a much more complex counter to this sleazy image. She says:

Maybe it’s surprising, but most Las Vegas children don’t grow up quickly. They aren’t fast like their coastal counterparts. In Vegas, children pass through their novel environment unconsciously… They’ve been taught not to notice, and it’s only the transplanted ones—the children who arrive from Boston when they are nine—who think to tell their friends back home about the naked billboards, the “Live Nude” signs, the doggy-sex flyers.

McBride masterfully shows the complexity of the setting through the life of Avis, a woman stuck in her past whose marriage has been falling apart under her nose. The modern, suburban lifestyle Avis reached wasn’t expected of her. Based on her violent past and her mother (a young woman who jumped from abusive boyfriend to abusive boyfriend), it was assumed she’d end up perpetuating the idea of Vegas as a seedy, violent place. However, she claws her way up to the lifestyle she dreamed of as a child: a nice home in a nice neighborhood with a loving husband and a child. Under the sheen of this shiny new life, there are still struggles that must be dealt with: illnesses, deteriorating relationships, and the idea that maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t done things quite right raising her son.

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This idea—struggling to reach an ideal and realizing it’s not all that it seems—is also seen in the story of Bashkim Ahmenti, the eight-year-old son of Albanian refugees. His parents, trying to achieve the American Dream (to be self-sufficient and industrious), own an ice cream truck, but they constantly argue. Bashkim’s baba, who was, for a time, a political prisoner in Albania, and his nene, who misses Albania terribly, are both prone to anger and defensiveness, yelling at each other over every little thing.

A physical manifestation of the theme seen in both Bashim’s and Avis’s stories is when Bashkim’s nene buys a young pear tree, just a sapling, despite his baba’s objections. They plant it together, and it grows wonderfully in the ground behind their apartment building. It seems perfect, but when the tree bears fruit they’re hard as rocks, and don’t taste good at all.

All of this wonderful complexity vanishes near the end of the book. The resolution makes some attempts at bitter sweetness, but the gritty reality set up in the beginning melts away and leaves only a simple ending that seems entirely too coincidental to be realistic. Such a neat ending leaves out all of the loose ends that build intrigue throughout the novel. At just over three hundred pages, it’s an average size novel, but perhaps if McBride were given more room, she could have reintroduced the negative, however slight, that underlies all positive things in her book, as in life.


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Laura McBride is a writer and community college teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. She once thought of herself as an adventurer, having traveled far from home on little more than a whim and a grin, but now laughs at the conventional trappings of her ordinary suburban life.  We Are Called To Rise is her first novel.


About the author: Hope Kennedy is a sophomore at North Central College, where she’s studying English and Management. Likes include writing, cats, and sleeping in on rainy days. Dislikes include inaccurate movies based on good books, the sound people make when they chew ice, and that awkward smile you exchange with a stranger when you make eye contact.

Review of “Double Jinx” by Nancy Reddy

Double Jinx Nancy Reddy

In Double Jinx, Nancy Reddy exhibits the growing pains of adolescence and young adulthood through an intensely sensual lens, twisting beloved fables and fairy tales into engrossing carnal imagery. Her style is deliciously dark, and her poems shed a harsh light on feminism, sexual abuse, and religious cruelty. Through this method, Reddy presents harsh truth. There’s something refreshing about being simultaneously disturbed and intrigued by a collection of poetry.

Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Nancy Drew all make appearances in Reddy’s imaginative poetry, engaging readers with their familiarity before morphing into poems of unsettling beauty.

“…and they knew she’d be a night-time princess

           only. They found her morning after on the cobblestones,

coach and driver vanished, her dress turned back to tatters.”

“Cinderella Story” – Nancy Reddy

Double Jinx is a unique collection, though it does quickly escalate from shocking to sinister—praiseworthy to some and discomforting to others. While fearless and unpredictable, it is a point to consider if certain moments are evocative if not simply to just be evocative.

“I’d find her facedown, smudged with earth

because a man like him will do that

when he loves. I pawed her

up again, I nosed the dulcet

rot of her, the savory flesh

of thighs and ass. I saw that she

looked nothing like me, not even

in the moss and rigor mortis of her afterlife…”

“Come Fetch” – Nancy Reddy

Of all the raw poetry contained in this volume, “Double Jinx”—the same poem as the title—creates the most provocative, ominous, and thrilling riddle. Nancy Drew’s lustful and murderous doppelganger presents a precise, edgy truth regarding female sexuality and domestic abuse.

“She’s in your town now. You’re in your hair.

One quick slit and you’re in the space inside

her skin. You hold your breath then whisper.

You thumb the ligaments. You kick the tires.

You loved that dumb boy, too. Before he died.”

“Double Jinx” – Nancy Reddy

Equally haunting as it is mysterious, Double Jinx is not for the faint of heart. But for readers intrigued by the macabre and attracted to surrealism, it’s a stab into the fierce tenderness of womanhood and a seductive shadow of modern poetry.


Nancy Reddy

Nancy Reddy‘s poetry has been published in 32 PoemsTupelo Quarterly, and Best New Poets of 2011 (selected by D.A. Powell), with poems forthcoming in Post Road and New Poetry from the Midwest. She lives in Madison, where she is a doctoral candidate in composition and rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin.


About the author of this post: Deana Becker is a junior at North Central College, majoring in English with a concentration in Writing. While others lament reading through piles of submissions, Deana joyfully fulfills her position as a reader and contributor of North Central’s literary magazine, 30 North. One of her favorite genres to read is Flash Fiction.