Kamby Bolongo Mean River named one of 25 Important Books of the 2000s by HTML Giant

KBMR was named one of 25 Important Books of the decade by HTML Giant. And was a Page One selection of New & Noteworthy Books by Poets & Writers Magazine.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No news today - Guest Post - Vesper T. Woods


On my fortieth birthday, when the lights went, my wife Sitchie said, “Sweetheart, my heart. It’s stopped.” Mine had gone too.
The news didn’t care where we were this time. They would say three lightning strikes did us in, three power lines gave up on New York, and a generator named Ravenswood 3 finally died and took the rest of us with it. That’s about all I remember them telling us.
Sitchie was never afraid of it, that pitch-black kind of love. In fact, she preferred it, wished on it, called after its shape: suspense love, a medieval kind of loving. She had them all ready: candles, cassettes, dusting bottles of wine above the fridge, forgotten till they were old enough to be worth it. But outside our apartment, the world was ending, and that night I said, “How could anyone have a beating heart in all this mess?” Then she left.

Nine months later, a million babies were born. I think we both knew it would happen that way. Those who weren’t running for their lives, or smashing up glass, or pointing at the stars for the very first look, or silenced in Shea Stadium, or stealing back what should have been theirs in the first place, or whispering holy vespers, or tagging the 2 train with spray painted love letters, or lighting their anger ablaze, or bleaching their hair for the Son of Sam, or strapping bra straps around bruised arms, were all probably fucking for humanity instead. We had seen the couple across the way fall to their bed, strip each other clean, the shadows of their bodies kicking like a pulse. And really, we knew it would all happen that way.

We had also tried to make a baby in that year of ‘77. But Sitchie had problems on the inside. My Sitchie, Sydelle to those who knew her better. She ate all the right foods for an easier conception, studied the moon so our son would be a Virgo. His name came from the tallest tombstones in Queen’s Calvary cemetery. Sydelle, oh Sydelle, who peeled away the skin of her lips when the Doctor said, “I’m sorry.” My wife, who had said: “I bet he would have had your eyes, anyway.”

I sat on a stool by our window that night. I listened to the melody of sirens, stolen cars booming through storefront windows. The night guards with their nightsticks. The organist at the Mets game, Here is your music to die by. I listened to my wife twisting open the wine, her voice saying, No better occasion, and my own, No thanks. She had a sing-song pitch when she was sad, my Sitchie. I’ll tell you about it sometime.

My heart really had begun to quit earlier that summer. I lost my job and my head. I found girlfriends. I thought about their sex-wet stomachs when I went to sleep. I dreamed dreams of Howard Hughes and Hollywood. I sold everything sacred or shiny in the crash. My watch was the last to go. A man named Freddie at East River Pawn pinched it between his hangnails, dropped it into the mouth of a cigar box, said, “Even without timing, you’re still a man.”

Nine years later, I left New York. A woman named Dolly brought over a casserole when I arrived in the country. It was too dry to eat. Everything about her bored me. I married her. I have a cat and an analyst these days. I live down low and watch my face disappear on hubcaps. My new wife cries at night. She says, “Tell me about her.” The news says, “Where were you the summer of ’77?”

I think I’ll write to them:

There once was a boy and a girl who played telephone with a cup and a string. A boy and a girl who played spin the bottle with a hairbrush and only each other. There was a boy who got gone at 18 years old but sent his sweetheart postcards from around the country, a girl who had answered the door in one sock when the boy came knocking and said, “Well, well. If it isn’t you.” A boy who became a man when he asked the girl’s dying father for her hand in marriage. A man and his woman who moved to the city of no sleep three years before the world was ending. The young woman who gave up smoking and red meat and long-distance running in hopes of a new boy or girl. The young man who never gave a damn thing. A bottle of wine unpacked from their wedding day, saved for the next best occasion. A suitcase snapped shut by a woman fumbling blind for her things. And a slamming door, on a fortieth birthday, when both their hearts had stopped.

Vesper T. Woods is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in 12th Street Journal, Conveyor Magazine, and received an Honorable Mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award. She is the coordinator of a creative writing workshop for women inmates at the Valhalla Correctional Facility in Valhalla, NY. She is currently the Fiction Editor of LUMINA magazine. On the weekdays, she is T Kira Madden.

Friday, December 23, 2011

No news today - Guest Post - Shelly Oria

Following the News

Do you follow the news?

An incident occurred, and it involved ships. I am not delivering breaking news here; this happened a while ago. And yet in all likelihood, I am telling you something you don't know. If you followed the news, you'd know about this incident. If you don't that's fine, but please accept responsibility. Accepting responsibility is the first thing to know about following the news.

An incident occurred, and it involved ships, and it also involved the military. Please don't assume that I'm referring to the U.S military, because you'd be wrong, and being wrong is the worst thing you can do when it comes to following the news. I am referring to a Foreign Military; one thing you absolutely need to remember in order to successfully follow the news is that there are militaries around the world that are not the U.S military. These are called Foreign Militaries.

I happen to be extremely qualified when it comes to reporting this piece of news, and possibly I am the most qualified person to be reporting this piece of news, and that is due to the fact that I once belonged to that Foreign Military. Please note my grammar, my use of the word 'that.' You need to know your grammar in order to successfully follow the news. You don't have to be advanced, but you do need basic grammar skills, and you need to pay attention. If you possess basic grammar skills and are paying attention, then you have probably already figured out that not only did I belong to a Foreign Military, but that I belonged to this particular Foreign Military, the one involved in this particular incident, which involved ships.

Being the most qualified person to report this piece of news means that I understand about details; I understand the general unimportance of details, and I understand, too, that sometimes certain details are in fact important. Therefore, you can trust that I will only provide you with the absolutely necessary details regarding the incident which involved ships, and that I will spare you any details which are not, or are less than, important.

When I heard about this incident, I immediately decided to continue reading House and Garden. Shortly after, I ordered a slice of carrot cake. These are important details. Both the reading of House and Garden and the eating of carrot cakes are of insurmountable importance when it comes to following the news. If this is not yet clear, I assure you that it will become clear very soon.

In the incident in question, which involved a Foreign Military and ships, nine people were killed, or perhaps eighty. Alternately, it is possible that a total of four (4) people died as a result of this tragic and unfortunate incident.

Now, this is not my first time reporting this incident, and in the past every time I reached the part in my report which addresses the casualties, many people would leave the room. Some, on their way out, would even ask me for my e-mail, so they can later send a letter of complaint. (I have learned that people in the U.S prefer to complain in a way that doesn't require their presence.) So please don't leave the room, and whatever you do, do not ask me for my e-mail. Due to my past involvement with the Foreign Military, very few people have my e-mail, and I would like to keep it that way.

But moreover, and more importantly-- the first thing to know about following the news, is that you don't complain. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that there's nothing you can do. I am not at all evoking a discussion about passivity, not even mentioning the word 'passivity.' There certainly is a lot you can do. You can take your dog for a run, for instance, if you have a dog. Upon your return, you can put fruit in the blender and make a healthy shake. (I recommend mangos for their excellent antioxidant value). A man who goes for a run with an animal and subsequently drinks a healthy shake is not a passive man, and the same is true if you're a woman. Anyone knows that. But one thing you can't do is complain. Please believe me, and even if you don't believe me, accept my advice, and even if you don't accept my advice, don't complain.

Now, asking you not to e-mail me is different from saying I did not read the e-mails in question. Please note that I said no such thing, made no such reference. Reading e-mails is probably the most important thing to do when it comes to following the news. I read each e-mail several times, out of respect for the sender, whether he or she followed the news or not. In respecting the senders and reading the e-mails, I made the e-mails a News Source, and that is why e-mails are important.

I learned many things from the e-mails, once they became a News Source. The main thing I learned was the reason behind people's departure from the room whenever I discussed the casualties. If you are from the U.S then you may already know the reason, but I am not from the U.S and it took a lot of e-mail-reading for me to understand. I initially assumed the reason was death, that people didn't want to hear about death. I made that assumption because where I come from people take great joy in the telling and retelling of death stories, but part of the joy is pretending that there is no joy but rather suffering. This may sound complicated if you are from the U.S but it is simple. Please understand: Where I come from, it is considered untoward to take joy in the telling of death, and so in order to truly take joy, one must pretend not to be taking joy. And so, for a long time I assumed that the people leaving the room were only pretending to leave, while in fact not leaving at all. Thank God for the e-mails, because they were the News Source that taught me that things in the U.S are different.

As you might have gathered if you are from the U.S, all these people did in fact leave the room. I know that now, and know also that they left not because they glorified in the stories of death, but because they found the numbers I was reporting “confusing,” “inconsistent,” or even “inaccurate.” (It is important to note here that I found these claims quite presumptuous, considering this was an incident these people had never heard of before). Moreover, and this too is important: these people assumed, as people from the U.S often do, that my confusion, inconsistency, and inaccuracy were in fact signs of disrespect for the human life.

How could they think that I, a former soldier of a Foreign Military, would disrespect the human life? If I could share my anguish with you, I would—believe me—and you would know then that I have suffered. But sharing my anguish with you would of necessity include several unimportant or less-than-important details, and that is no way to conduct reports. Despite the temptation (which, I might add, I feel because I have a deep respect for the human life) I am proud to tell you that I have never discussed my personal anguish in any of my reports to date.

The next detail of importance is that the victims were from different countries. In all probability, that is what people mean when they use the expression 'citizens of the world,' although there is no conclusive data supporting this claim at the date of this report.

Please understand: I am a critical thinker. That is part of what makes me the most qualified person to report this piece of news. My being a critical thinker is evidenced, for instance, by my use of the word 'victims.' Had I not been a critical thinker, I'd have believed every word of the military I once belonged to, and none of these words are the word 'victims.' There are plenty of ways to believe the military's every word where I come from, and a common one is reading the paper. Where I come from, if you're looking at a man reading the paper, what you're looking at is an uncritical thinker, and the same is true if it's a woman. That is because where I come from, when people read the paper they forget to disbelieve. Even I, a critical thinker, often forget to disbelieve when reading the paper. Other times I remember to disbelieve, but can't remember how to disbelieve.

Therefore, if I read the paper, I could not report the incident in question to you. I wouldn't know who attacked who and who is whose victim and who is less or more at fault because of something having to do with weapons. Additionally, I would not know whether or not ships were involved. This confusion would quickly become so exhausting that I'd be forced to read House and Garden and order a slice of carrot cake, only to stay awake. If you're astute, you may point out that either way—with or without reading the paper, with or without critical thinking—the result is the same, and involves cake. You'd be right, but being right is of no consequence when it comes to following the news.

Allow me to report to you now the last detail of importance about the incident in question. Once you hear this last detail, you will know everything you need to know about the incident which involved ships. You may take a moment to celebrate your achievement; that is only natural. But I do have to ask that you refrain from reporting this incident to others; you are not a qualified person when it comes to reporting this piece of news, and possibly you are the least qualified person to report this piece of news.

If you do not feel comfortable with my request, I would have to ask that you leave the room at this time. If you choose this course of action, please know that I will harbor no resentment toward you, but you are to make no further attempts at following the news.

Now. The last detail of importance is a detail you may have already surmised from the fact that the victims were from different countries: I did not know the victims personally. This detail is incredibly important. Reporting the incident in an objective manner might not have been possible otherwise. But more importantly: the reading of House and Garden and the eating of carrot cake would certainly not have been possible otherwise. That is what I keep explaining to anyone who would listen, and that is the reason I started reporting this incident to begin with, long ago.

You now know everything you need to know about the incident which involved a Foreign Military and ships. I thank you for listening.

Shelly Oria was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Israel. Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Quarterly West, cream city review, and fivechapters among other places, and won the 2008 Indiana Review Fiction Prize among other awards. Shelly curates the series Sweet! Actors Reading Writers in the East Village and teaches fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and Pratt Institute as well as privately.

Monday, December 12, 2011

No news today - Guest Post - Ira Livingston

The News from Poems: Reading and Refuge

Reflection does not withdraw from the world . . .; it steps back to watch the sparks of transcendence fly up like sparks from a fire; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals the world as strange and paradoxical. (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception)

. . . sometimes I have been seized by the childish desire never to return to the burrow again, but to settle down somewhere close to the entrance, to pass my life watching the entrance, and gloat perpetually upon the reflection—and in that find my happiness—how steadfast a protection my burrow would be if I were inside it. (Kafka, “The Burrow”)

In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the co-existence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found. (Winnicot, “Communicating and Not Communicating”)

It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” (William Carlos Williams
, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”)


Frankenstein’s monster, in Mary Shelley’s novel, is rejected by his creator and by everyone he meets.

He finds a hideaway in a shed attached to a cottage. The shed is too low to stand up in, but it’s dry, and a chimney provides warmth.

The monster gets water at night from a nearby stream, and he sneaks food from the cottage’s pantry.

Unseen, he can watch the residents of the cottage through a crack in a boarded-up window.

He discovers language as they talk and read books aloud to each other, and he learns to speak when they teach English to a foreign guest.

Curiously, the monster’s situation in the shed resembles that of the reader in the act of reading.

Alone, withdrawn from public space, and virtually immobilized, the monster, like the reader, can direct his entire attention

to eavesdropping on the interior scene that keeps unfolding, in language, before his eyes.

In this monstrous image of the reader, there is some sense of escapism. Of course, the escape may be protective and restorative.

(I think of someone I know who as a child found refuge in the public library from a crowded household and an abusive parent.)

And there is also some sense of the reader as a parasite. In the largest sense, this may evoke the notion of vampiristic leisure classes

laying around reading while others toil, or even the more general notion that our so-called higher faculties—

consciousness and civilization themselves—parasitically hitch a ride on the back of our animal natures.

Writers no less than readers can easily be cast as vampires, not only because everyone they encounter is potential prey

from which material for their next novels can be extracted, but because to commit oneself to live through the posterity of books

(rather than through living offspring) might mean, at some level, never quite being alive at all.

Anyway it is here in this twilight world that reader and writer meet.

Once you get the idea that the eavesdropping monster works as an image of the reader, it’s easy to see that his situation

also matches Mary Shelley’s account of her own lifelong engagement with written and fantasized stories.

Growing up with a famously depressive, distant father and a famously narcissistic stepmother, Mary wrote stories and spun daydreams

that provided her constant “refuge” and “dearest pleasure.” Thus the “blank and dreary” countryside she visited as a girl

became for her a “pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy.”

The refuge of fantasy is the fantasy of refuge. But sometimes even survival may depend on this tenuous tautology.


Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man withdraws from what Ellison calls the “existential torture” of living as a black man

in mid-20th-century America. He finds refuge “in a building rented strictly to whites, in a section of the basement

that was shut off and forgotten during the nineteenth century, which I discovered when I was trying to escape in the night.”

Here he is able to live rent-free and to tap into the main line of the “Monopolated Light and Power” Company to illuminate his refuge.

It is from this position that the rest of narrative-- of his life up to the point of his withdrawal—is offered.

The narrator’s position resembles certain particulars of Ellison’s immediate situation as he was writing the novel.

Ellison lived in a basement apartment in Harlem, where his writer’s hours (especially in contrast to his wife’s regular job)

made him a suspect and hypervisible character in the predominantly working-class, black neighborhood.

During this time he also wrote in a friend’s office on Fifth Avenue, which ironically enabled him “to find sanctuary

in a predominantly white environment where that same color and vagueness of role rendered me anonymous and hence beyond public concern.”

Of course a writer inevitably incorporates aspects of his immediate situation into whatever he’s writing, and as in Ellison’s case,

his immediate situation may be intimately a part of what he is writing about anyway. But my point here is the ways in which being a writer

and being a reader resonate with each other as ways of being simultaneously in and out of the world, and (in this case)

with the experience of being black in America, of being both invisible and hypervisible.

This is not to assert that being black is like reading or writing a book-- or that all writers have “the souls of black folks”--

only that we may recognize resonant points of contact.


When I read Frankenstein and Invisible Man, I was reminded of an old science-fiction fantasy of my own. In my fantasy,

the scene is a post-apocalyptic cityscape at night, something like what might have been painted by a latter-day Hieronymous Bosch.

Here and there among dark ruins and ramparts, sparks crackle up from bonfires attended by skulking shadows.

Off in the distance, guard-towers loom over lurid, floodlit fortifications and barb-wired compounds.

Uneasy silence-- in which one can make out the low hum of generators-- is punctuated by sounds of gunfire and ambiguous cries.

In the middleground of this hellish tableau, a solitary traveler picks his way, like the lone pilgrim in a Chinese landscape painting.

You can imagine what horrors our traveler has seen, what privations he’s endured, how many times through cunning or luck

he has managed to cheat death. One night, pursued by brutal cyborg police (or wild dogs, or zombie mutants), he stumbles

onto a concealed opening in a wall and slips inside to safety, into a forgotten, cavernous, trapezoidal enclosed space between buildings.

From this point, you can continue folding in assorted elaborations: the piles of hoarded canned goods, the fresh water source,

the heat and the hum from giant machines on the other side of the wall.

This is as far as my fantasy goes, but if you want to spin more of a narrative around it, you could throw in another refugee

who stumbles in with her tattered clothing, flashing eyes, and cleavage. Our hero wins her over, but then her mutant ex-boyfriend shows up,

and ultimately everybody dies, or at the very least, the refuge is compromised and our traveler is thrown back into his wanderings.

Perhaps you can see him again, in the distance now, a tiny figure trudging alongside the wall of a floodlit fortification.


All this takes us back out of the fantasy of refuge, which is, of course, a temporary state. You must always rejoin the world.

But the opposite is no less true: you can never quite rejoin the world-- or as Bob Dylan put it, “you can always come back,

but you can’t come back all the way.” And the opposite of both of these opposites also applies: you never left.

And the opposite of that: you were never quite of the world to begin with. The coexistence of all these opposed conditions

is precisely the point. Reading is a practice that puts us in touch with withdrawal and aloneness as both temporary and permanent states,

and the ways in which we are always paradoxically both a part of and apart from social being-in-the-world.

Post-apocalyptic fantasies are classic images of depression, marked by the sense that something terrible and irrevocable has happened

just as anxiety involves the sense that something terrible is about to happen.

What has happened is usually something like the loss of a world, at least of a world characterized by warmth and human connection.

Such a world is sometimes called, using the terms of psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicot, a “holding environment.”

You might think, if you’re going to be fantasizing anyway, why not conjure up a whole heavenly world

—like the Big Rock Candy Mountain in the old folk song-- instead of a relatively comfortable hovel in a bleak wasteland?

If whistling through graveyards (commonly known as denial) is your dominant defensive coping strategy, then go ahead.

You’ll have lots of company. But remember how, in the movie The Matrix, the machines first create an illusory idyllic world

to pacify their human slaves, only to discover that most humans can’t handle it. As Gertrude Stein said of Mallorca,

“it’s paradise, if you can stand it.” Most people can’t.

Depression can bring a starkly accurate assessment of things-as-they-are, a phenomenon known as depressive realism.

The depressive part of the realism is a tendency to discount things-as-they-could-be in favor of trying to make one’s way

in the ruins of a world one cannot hope to rebuild.

But do I have to point out that this stance is only in its extreme forms a pathological condition?

If you, dear reader, didn’t already know something about depressive fantasies as coping strategies,

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find you here, scavenging for god-knows-what in this out-of-the-way text--

I mean, instead of being out somewhere, with a sparkle in your eye and a martini in your hand, making friends and love and money.


So why are you here? What made a reader of you? Why have you crawled up, alone, into this out-of-the-way nook?

What could this text be for you-- what kind of refuge, pantry, pharmacy? What goodies could you get here? What are you getting even now?

Ellison went so far as to assert that “a novel could be fashioned as a raft of hope”-- one “that might help keep us afloat

as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation’s vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal.”

The most that could be happening between you and a text is that it is keeping you alive,

will be part of what keeps you alive, what you live for. You were fortunate indeed to have stumbled into these words!

Look up for a moment. There may be others around, and they can see that you are reading. But they cannot really see

the web we are weaving, the secret psychological sustenance you are getting from this reading.

“Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.”

It’s a physical thing, the visual scanning of the lines of type, like smoking a cigarette.

The hands hold, the eyes scan, the brain lights up. Put it down, pick it up again and read: again the eyes scan and the brain lights up.

A voice in your head reads the words aloud; it is your voice but not your voice. If you are attentive,

you can feel it being echoed in your adam’s apple and the muscles of your tongue and lips, like the shadow of a voice,

as when your mind mirrors the emphatic gestures and passionate inflections of a speaker with whom you identify,

as if you were saying the words yourself, as if you were watching someone you love perform in a play you had seen many times.

The thing about reading is that it’s like and not like interacting with another person.

It’s like it in the sense that you don’t know what will come next. The text seems to have some sovereign agency.

It seems to be different than sitting around thinking or spinning out fantasies of your own.

The reader can even be characterized as deplorably passive: all I can do as a reader is scan the text, and nothing I do can change it.

I cannot act on it. And the text, in turn, also seems almost inert. It cannot respond to me. It cannot look back at me.

But the text can do something that may even be a matter of survival.

It holds me.

Ira Livingston is the author, most recently, of Between Science and Literature: An Introduction to Autopoetics (Illinois, 2006) and co-editor of Poetry and Cultural Studies: A Reader (Illinois, 2009). He is Chair of the Department of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn.

Monday, December 5, 2011

No news today - Guest Post - Kim Chinquee


Listening to the rain thrumming on the windows, knowing her husband had probably had a backslide, she grabbed an orange from the bowl and peeled, imagined the wheels of the car somewhere in a ditch, or in another woman's driveway. It was past two and, being that they only had one car, she had no way of going anywhere herself, unless she took the bike out.

She turned on the porch light and looked out, at the tree weighted by the week of constant rainfall, the blanket of pecans on the ground below it. The phone in her robe pocket. She heard the baby singing from the next room, to a song of lambs and losses, and she went into the nursery, where the baby sat upright in his crib, said hello, as if he were six, or ten, or twenty. "Hello," he said. He was almost two now, too old for a crib, probably, and he hardly cried, ever.

"Your dad is gone," she said to the baby. She sat in the rocker and told the baby that his dad was out making millions so he could take them to the tropics. The baby stood in the crib and put his hands up to the rails, like the men she saw in jail those times she had to pick up her husband from the drunk tank. She lifted the baby, spun him, said maybe she'd call in sick in the morning, where she held babies in sizes of vegetables like eggplant, sticking them with needles, administering doses, telling truths and lies to loved ones. Now she told her baby it was time. The baby perked and called her dada then squirreled his way down and ran across the carpet to his stuffed bear in the corner.

She already had a bag packed. Two months before he'd stumbled in with blood on his chin, a bruise shaped up like a daisy, and when she tried to fix him, he gave her bruises of her own and then she went away until he came back for her the next week, saying he was clean and sorry and sober.

Now she did what she knew she was supposed to, speed dialing the number she'd gotten from the shelter, remembering what the woman had said about being home at times like these, when and if he got there. "It's time," she said to herself. “It’s time,” she said to her baby, toddler, son. She got dressed and she sang. She found a step and rocked there.

Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections Oh Baby and Pretty. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Henfield Prize and has been published journals and anthologies including NOON, The Nation, Huffington Post, Conjunctions, Wilow Springs, Denver Quarterly, New York Tyrant, Fiction, American Short Fiction, The Mississippi Review, New Orleans Review, Best of the Web 2010, The Florida Review, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill and others. Her website is www.kimchinquee.com