Friday, December 21, 2012

PEN/Faulkner Podcast, Episode 12: 2012 PEN/Malamud Award Honoring James Salter


James Salter reads his story "Comet"

(Podcast features music by Benedict Kupstas)

Defiant NRA Hack Deludedly Sticks to His Guns

I'm still having a really hard time processing today's press conference with the CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, in response to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.  LaPierre's comments, his defensive and defiant response to the tragedy, and his paranoid fear mongering, was incredibly surreal and confounding... 

From an excellent Mother Jones article about the press conference: 

"The head of the nation's most powerful gun rights organization laid out a vision of a paramilitary America, where citizens are protected by armed guards until they are old enough to walk around with their own firearms on the off-chance they might need to pump a few rounds into a fellow citizen. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said LaPierre. "Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away ... or a minute away?" Yet outside of video games, civilians rarely stop mass shooters."

LaPierre continued his exploitative, scaremongering crusade to feed a dangerous, trigger-horny (he's the one that oddly conflated violence and pornography, so I'll keep it up) national paranoia—despicably vilifying those suffering from mental illness, suggesting a ratcheting up of violent confrontation in lieu of any rational policies or regulation, essentially depicting a frontier justice anarchy, prescribing an armed and paranoid populace while proscribing any reasoned or compassionate response to these tragedies, scapegoating an admittedly problematic media while bafflingly letting his own nefarious industry off the hook...

Here is a transcript of the press conference.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Some of the Street Art in the 798 Art District, Beijing

One of the most interesting places I visited in China earlier this month was the 798 Art District in Beijing. Obviously, a westerner in China is keenly aware of the limits to free speech that are imposed (explicitly or tacitly) in China, and those limits are disturbing on a number of fronts. State controlled media, an internet that is monitored and severely curtailed, sedition laws that criminalize criticism of the state and the Communist Party, an incredibly disturbing number of journalists in jail, not to mention the human rights abuses at seemingly every turn... it's enough to make you want to turn tail and get outta Dodge. Then you check out 798 or run across an indie record store in Ho Hai or find yourself in a little reggae bar where teenagers are singing Bob Marley in English and Mandarin, and China begins to feel both smaller and more complicated than previously imagined. 

That said, 798 was particularly interesting because it was packed with cafes, bookstores, galleries, shops, and restaurants. In some respects, it struck me as particularly western while in others, it seemed that this particular mix of art and commerce could only exist in a country that was really trying to redefine itself artistically. It'd be easy to go to 798 and wonder whether you were really seeing authentic contemporary Chinese art. Ai Weiwei, for instance, is known in the States because he was disappeared for 81 days last year, a move that caused international outrage and sparked a movement to find him asylum in the U.S. or U.K. That said, there were books and articles about Ai Weiwei all over the place in 798, though I didn't see any of his art. It was as if discussion of the artist was somehow in-bounds simply because his public persona and international celebrity was too big to contain. How does a censor put a cap on such a pervasive conversation and such a widely known figure? The answer, it seems, is that it doesn't. 

Anyway, I'm certainly no expert and 10 days in China is hardly time enough to wrap one's head around these issues, let alone understand them in any sort of nuanced way. It is enough time, however, to snap some photos, so here they are, a few shots from the 798 Art District, which is well worth a visit the next time you're in Beijing. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

10 Questions for Petri Press

Starting today, we'll be running a short series of interviews with small press and small magazine publishers who, you know, get so much attention already that this is sort of redundant. We begin with Petri Press, a two-person operation out of Iowa City, IA. We recently emailed publisher Micah Bateman with some questions.

1. So, you've named your press Petri Press. I want to know two things about this: 1) Why? and 2) How does one pronounce this, really? Is it "pee" "tree" or "pet" "ree"? How do you say it, and how do you want other people to say it?

I've always said "pee" "tree," which Merriam-Webster Online confirms. But I also like the Dick Van Dyke Show pronunciation.

2. I'm curious to know more about your vision for Petri Press. Is there a driving aesthetic? A lack of a driving aesthetic? Is it even a fair thing to talk about certain presses in terms of particular aesthetics? Some might argue that doing so does a disservice by being somehow reductionist. What's your take?

I'm sure the more astute will be able to detect if not a driving aesthetic, an allegiance to certain groups and traditions. Eliot says you should have five main poets you admire and emulate. I have a lot more than this, but I'm slowly whittling down. I would bet most of the poets I'll publish are probably Stevens fans. What I really want to say is that I'm not at all concerned with curating any sort of "vision." I just want to publish poems or poets I admire. It just happens that many of them went to the same school as me, which is how I know about them.

3. Picking up there: it's always seemed to me that the question of genre in fiction--that is, what counts as "literary" versus what's seen as "genre"--is also a concern in the world of poetry. In fact, the divisions between aesthetic schools seems particularly distinct. You've got political poets, you've got so-called language poets, you've got confessional poets, and ecologically-conscious poets, and on and on. Is this kind of broad categorization a fair way to make poetic distinctions or is it largely useless?

I think we try to make sense of things with categories, but they don't exactly work. Sometimes it's difficult for me to distinguish Language poets from Dadaists or post-Language poets from what George Oppen was writing. And I'm a sucker for those poets I consider American Surrealists, but none of the living writers I consider such will own up to the name. And all poems seem confessional in a way, but we only recognize the more personal-narrative ones as such. Categories may be useful in describing poets' most salient qualities or allegiances if you're recommending a book to a friend, say. But ultimately it's all muddy water and at its worst can be used for unfair dismissal, i.e. "He's just a Dean Young follower," which is something I'd probably say but shouldn't. Who knows?

4. You've kicked off the website with some lovely art in the header and with poems by Nico Alvarado. Is there a significance to starting with Alvarado's work? This is going to sound silly, but when I saw that Alvarado was the first person you've published on the site, I wondered if you'd be going in alphabetical order. But that's probably just grade school conditioning at work....

I'm not publishing in alphabetical order, but I might list the authors that way. I wanted to start with Nico's work because he's one of my favorite poets. Before I started graduate school, I came across this poem and was so impressed by it that a year or two later, trawling the MFA thesis stacks at the University of Iowa library, I remembered the poem when I saw Nico's name. I checked out his Workshop thesis and kept it almost two years. Then I finally got the idea to send him a fan letter, which I hope spurred him to write some more. He was kind enough to give me the first three poems for Petri.

5. What's your editorial schedule going to look like? How frequently will you be publishing online and how many chapbooks are you looking at putting out annually?

We hope to publish a poet a week online and a chapbook every summer. Wish us luck.

6. Nobody reads. Nobody cares. Publishing is dead. The world's going to hell in a handbasket by all measurable quantities. Seems an optimistic move to found a press now. Are you an eternal optimist up against impossible odds, or is the situation I described really not as bad as all of that?

First, I don't think the situation is bad at all, just different from what it used to be. Second, 6 billion people might not read poetry. But I read a lot of poetry, and while there might be 6 billion poetry zines out there, I've only found a couple that I consistently enjoy. So this is really just a venture in founding a press for myself as a kind of running commonplace book. The optimism comes in making it public with the thought that it might mean something to someone besides me.

7. You're a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and are a poet yourself. The role of publisher is, I suspect, new or new-ish territory for you, no? How do you--as a writer--avoid the conundrum that many writer/publishers face when they're faced with either soliciting, rejecting, and/or accepting and publishing work by writers whom you know? Is a sort of nepotism a concern in a venture like this one, or is it a natural thing that a publisher might well with to publish work by friends, colleagues, former students, etc.? 

I have mixed feelings about nepotism and poetry. When Jorie Graham was selecting for book contests, she was picking incredible books. It's just that many of them were by her students. Well, of course they were by her students! She had already selected them for admission to her graduate program; why would it not make sense that she would then select their books? Then Foetry came around and put a stop to all that. As a poet who's sending out a manuscript, it's nice to know that contests are more transparent and less nepotistic. But as a reader of poetry, I have to think book contests were better when Jorie Graham was selecting the winner. I also have to think that it's unfair when acquaintances are counted out of the few book contests that exist for poets, especially when they've been a student of D.A. Powell or Carl Phillips, say, who together judge 150% of the contests and have taught 10,000 poets. But of course this has nothing to do with Petri...

There are poets I've never met whose work I love. But I know about them because they're already well published. I'm more interested in publishing poets I admire whose work is not so ubiquitous. But then how do I know I admire them? Because they are my teachers, classmates, students, etc., and I've seen their work in workshop packets or thesis stacks and such. I'm still working on the etiquette for asking for different poems from what was sent to me by friends and acquaintances. I certainly hope I don't get into the business of publishing my friends' worst poems just as a gesture of friendship or collegiality. From my friends thus far, I've been asking for specific poems by name that I know I love. But I haven't opened for general submissions yet, so we'll see what that brings when that time comes.

8. What do you hope you will have accomplished at Petri Press after one year? After five? 

I just hope I've collected enough cool poems to prove that the state of the art is still strong, if misrepresented.

9. Your collaborator (and wife) is Andrea Kohashi. She did the art for the website, I know. Will she also be doing the art for the chapbook series? Also: will the site be primarily text, as it is now, or will we see more visuals as the site grows? And finally, I have to ask: what's it like working on a creative venture with your spouse?

Yes, Andrea will be making the chapbooks herself, art and all. I'm not sure about visuals for the site. My kneejerk reaction is to say that it will be mostly work of the textual variety. But I'm leaving myself open to anything.

Working on a creative venture with one's spouse is actually great, provided the divisions of labor are absolutely clear. Andrea designs the header; I pick the poems. Andrea designs the chapbooks; I pick the authors. Etc. If we had to negotiate, I'm sure we'd be dead in the water.

10. I notice that while you'll be listing your authors in the right sidebar of the site, there are currently no author bios. On the one hand, I like that impulse--to let the work stand for itself without the trappings of a biography which (like it or not) always seems to change the way people find and read poems. On the other hand, if you're not including bios on the site, you're sort of shrugging off a long-held convention of book and magazine publishers. So, why no bios? Will is always be this way?

I guess I just don't understand the convention after Google. First, I don't care what awards people have won or where they went to school; generally this information just pisses me off in knowing what mediocre poets have won the Pulitzer or been a Stegner Fellow. Second, if writers' work strikes me, I'll just Google them and check them out online and then in a library or bookstore. I'm trusting that any reader who encounters a poet online at Petri Press will know how to use a search engine. Third, I want all the poets on Petri to be regarded in the same manner and not ranked by accolades. I'm trying to compile a running catalog of good poems, not accomplished poets. And those who are accomplished, one will probably know by name anyway.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: Andrés Neuman's Traveler of the Century

I've been fortunate enough to review—within the last year and change—three new novels by contemporary authors that have turned out to be so absolutely, mind-bogglingly superb that they rank among my all-time favorite books.  The first two were Tom McCarthy's C and Jesse Ball's The Curfew.  The most recent is Traveler of the Century by the young Argentine novelist Andrés Neuman.  The enigmatic book is overflowing with ideas—about philology, philosophy, love, translation, nationality, art, history, and more—and the richly conjured characters and landscapes will linger long past the last page.  Read my review of the novel for The L Magazine HERE.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bens @ Pete's

Ben + Ben = Blushing... But last night I (Benedict) was simply accompanying Benjamin for the last song of his second Monday night set of his May residency at Pete's Candy Store. The song is called "Ben, Relax. I'm Going to Float Your Skull." Buy it here:

Untitled (photo by Bailey Pollack)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Down Bustles (Upstate)"

2 Superb New Videos from 2 Old Favorites


Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's new video for his new version of his old classic, "I See A Darkness"...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Arcadia & Apple Brandy Are a Hellenistic Match Made in Heaven

Arcadia & Apple Brandy Are a Hellenistic Match Made in Heaven

It's hard to write about Lauren Groff's Arcadia without lapsing into euphoric hyperbole, so I'll keep it simple: this is the best novel I've read in a long, long time. Reviewers have been wise to avoid providing readers with details of the book's broader narrative arc because, certainly, part of the pleasure derived from reading the book comes from watching its protagonist, Bit Stone, navigate three dramatically different worlds. Read it, and you'll see what I mean.

You'll also notice that Bit is often clueless as to whether he should follow his head or his heart. He's conflicted and contradictory and, as with all good creatures, his redemption is found in his unwillingness to sacrifice those close to him for the sake of his desires. It's a sort of constancy that's both wrenching and admirable. It's also true, of course, that characters like Bit have a way of sometimes falling over the cliff-edge of believability, of wandering into sentimental Atticus Finch territory. Not that there's not everything to love in Atticus Finch, but anybody whose seen their father break something in anger or treat someone unkindly or unfairly or react in irrational or unloving ways (most of us, in other words), knows that Atticus is a fantasy (a lovely one, sure, but a fantasy nonetheless).

By contrast, the beauty of Bit Stone is that Groff never loses sight of who and what he is: he's painfully self-conscious and sad, and occasionally dramatic in his attempted solutions to loneliness and desperation (he goes mute in response to his mother's depression, believing that his quiet fortitude will shake her from her stupor). He's an artist whose childhood on a commune in upstate New York (the Arcadia of the title) has shaped him in ways expected and not. The weight of being the first infant born in the commune--the "first Arcadian"--resonates deeply within him. His optimism and nostalgia are (thankfully, smartly) tempered by the observations and experiences of other Arcadians, namely Hannah, his brutally beautiful, tender, and damaged mother and Helle, the object of long-suffering Bit's affection. Unlike Bit, Helle remembers a childhood of lack, want, poverty, and hunger. The distance between Bit's and Helle's memories is a necessary window through which the reader is allowed to see Arcadia as nothing so grim as Helle's gulag and nothing so charming as Hannah's back-to-the-land utopia.

Of course, it's a cliche to say that truth rarely adheres to a polemic, that things are almost never solely black or white, nor people entirely beatific or nefarious. Groff's immensely bold and lovely prose makes the expression of this principle (and all of its manifest implications: that the men, women, and children of Arcadia could be hungry and happy, that Arcadia was a sort of heaven and a sort of prison) something more than ordinary. In fact, Groff's done what a novelist should do (far be it from me to say what a novelist "should do," but to hell with it: novelists should do this): she's taken the seemingly ordinary and spun it into something capable of eliciting fierce and sincere pathos. If there's a better conception of what a novel (or all art?) can and should do, I'm hard pressed to find it.

Suffice it to say that this book is a kind of high-water mark, a novel that I'll (unfairly and inevitably) compare to the next novel I read (and the one after that, and after that, etc.).

All of which has me thinking about alcohol, per usual.

Image courtesy of Ol Green Goat on Flickr 

If Groff's naturalism isn't quite your mama's naturalism (again, just read the book), then Clear Creek Distillery's Apple Brandy isn't exactly your typical Apple Brandy--it's aromatic and lightly spiced and bright on the tongue even while being clean on the finish. I wanted to give it a nod here because, well, you can sip on an imported Calvados if that's your jam, or you can go with a domestically produced Apple brandy (or Eau de Vie or Poire or Grappa, whatever's your pleasure--Clear Creek has a great catalog) that's great post-dessert or in a variety of cocktails.

Because Groff's Arcadians distill their own "Slap Apple" (a cider of sorts that is sometimes spiked with illicit hallucinogens), this felt like the right pear-ing (zing!) to me. Also, as Arcadia is deeply invested in Hellenistic semiotics (it's called Arcadia, for goodness' sake, and Bit's lover is named Helle), Clear Creek Apple Brandy is the obvious sipper here.

It should also be noted--as it is on Clear Creek's website--that unlike pears, apples float. As such, the Golden Delicious fruits that they grow in the bottle and that are available seasonally (soaked, of course, in Clear Creek Apple Brandy), float in their lovely, wide-shouldered bottles. It'd be hard to find a better metaphor for Bit's buoyant (if revisionist) view of the gone-by golden days than a Golden Delicious apple floating in the gleaming and delicious distillate of the same fruit.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"What Would You Do If You Were Me?"

From Ben Seretan's album New Space

Ben Kupstas as You
Ben Seretan as Me
Bailey Pollack as What

Producer/Director - Angus McCullough
Director of Photography - Sam Jones
Assistant Camera - Josh Koenig
Gaffer - Spencer Sheridan
Caterer/Rippler - Julia Ramsey
Filmed at No Space:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

YSC is DJing at the Impossible Project Space on 3/29!

Opening Reception
Thursday March 29, 2012. 6pm-9pm.

425 Broadway
New York, NY 10013


More info:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Droning About (Landscape) Architecture

This cool video about landscape architecture and urban planning uses a song to which I lent some guitar playing a few weeks ago called "Ben, Relax. I'm Going to Float Your Skull." You can find that song—and 4 other lovely ditties—on Ben Seretan's new solo album here: (Also keep your eyes out and ears open for Ben and my new band, Blushing, which will start playing shows in NYC soon!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ben Seretan - New Space

From Ben S.:
This recording sprang almost fully into being when I spent this last Christmas morning alone. I think the last record was about finding space, this one is about filling it. And giving it.

I'd like to dedicate this to my friends. Thank you.
released 10 February 2012
"…Skull" features Ben Kupstas on guitar and delay pedals
Album drawing by Alex Tatusian
Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered by Tom Tierney at Spaceman Sound
"I Saw the Light" written by Hank Williams
All else by Ben Seretan
Recorded live in the studio with just guitars, amps, and delay pedals

All sales should be considered donations and will help pay for future music/projects

Friday, January 20, 2012

Introducing... Field Guides

(photo is from HERE)

Monday, January 9, 2012

We're Gonna Die @ The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh • February 17, 2012

Tickets are now available for a one-night-only performance of We're Gonna Die by Young Jean Lee and Future Wife on February 17 at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

More info:

Tickets are also available for 4 nights at Theatre Junction in Calgary, Alberta. Those dates are May 2–5.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012