Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New Life: Variations on a Theme by Joseph Brodsky et al.

Imagine that the war is over, that peace has reigned,
That you can look at your face in the mirror again.
That magpies, not bombs, whistle down upon your head
That outside the city, homes are not destroyed—instead
A baroque burst of laurels, palms, magnolia, pine;
In scented shadows a white hot Venus shines
That war’s cast-iron swamp is gone and then
The boredom is over: Life has to start again.

Imagine that all of this is true. Imagine, that you speak
Of yourself, speaking of others, that now you can seek
The irrelevant, the unneeded, the luxuries, the toys.
Life begins anew exactly thus: with noise
With erupting volcanoes. and such catastrophes
A sloop lost below, friends lost beneath the seas.
Look straight at these tragedies, with the feeling they engender,
That you alone can see them; with the tender
Feeling that, any minute now, you will turn away
To home, to the safe moment, to ask it to stay.

Imagine that the epoch ends in an idyll. The words that came
In monologues are rain dialogues now. And the flame,
That consumed others better than you, greedily, like logs,
In you it saw little use or warmth, and, like the dogs,
That’s why you were spared, why shrapnel cut only your fear.
Imagine that the more honest the voice, the less it has tears.
And when any Polyphemus asks you who it is that speaks.
Say, "Who, me? No one,” like Odysseus the Greek.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Alexander Skidan, translated by Larissa Shmailo and the author

It's like a rain wall
or a wall of news
when you crumble like chalk
as if the world lurched
and it could still be saved
only in this way


but the world is precisely this wall of news
in which your chalk is embedded

это как стена дождя
или стена новостей
когда ты мелом крошась
как если б мир покачнулся
и его еще можно было спасти
только таким образом


но мир – это и есть стена новостей
в которую вмурован твой мел

Friday, May 23, 2014


Fish: fishy mermaid in a taco: tuna taco
Fish: Jonah-belly in a quandary: Jewish taco
Fish: Papa Ernest in a marlin: senior taco
Fish: jaws crunch Spielberg in his femur: cinétaco Fish: killing dolphins by Japan-folk: save-the-taco
Fish: kill a dumpster make a landfill: gangster taco
Fish: look for bodies kill the bodies: war-fun taco
Fish: Forget the invertebrates and especially the plants that process your air and eat your fat exhaust gases; don’t even think about those algal blooms of your phosphorescence, or the carbon-binding organisms, the coccolithophores; forget them, I tell you. Start with the fish, start your consciousness, no! no, start your R-core reptile brain with fish, and big fish at that. Go fish. And hook, knit and purl a new piscine axis of evil, with German pike, Japanese carp, Iranian bluegill, Iraqi crappie, Korean stickleback, and (did I mention that the United States cutthroat trout consumes over a quarter of the world’s energy, contributing a massive percentage of the international carbon footprint while the Africa burbot (in its entirety) contributes 1 percent, did I mention we were pissing some Bonneville whitefish off while we griped and grappled with bonytail beyond our control, looking for ordered pairs of lota lota, or some net to hang our hats from). And.

Bloomfish : (in a lavender tuxedo jacket and grey and pink spats; eats fish and chips; farts). Boom. (Reflecting, opening a copy of The Fins of Sin as he masturbates beneath the baldachin of St. Sister We-Hardly-Knew-Ye’s broad and capacious ichtus altar) Taco.

Mrs. Marion Bloomfish (in Miss Havisham’s wedding dress) Carp. Carp. Carpe diem. Ctenopharyngodon idella. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

Bloomfish: Tuna taco.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What People Are Saying about #specialcharacters

At one point in #specialcharacters, Larissa Shmailo declares: “Mother Kali, you have made me what I am: feminine, brilliant, entirely without fear” — and the rest of the poems in this collection prove this true. They run the gamut from being outspoken to outrageous, irreverent to downright heretical, taking gleeful pride in knowing exactly how far is too far – and then going even further. I see this work as a continuum in a long tradition of radical writing practices from Futurism, to Dada, to Oulipo, to Pussy Riot. Read it when you wish to be empowered. Read it when you wish to be entertained. Read it to rid yourself of the precious and polite.
—Elaine Equi

This is a thrilling book of femininity and magic. When it comes to capturing the intimacy of pain, Larissa Shmailo is among the most daring poets of her generation. When speaking of human rights, she is a human flame. She is subtle and provocative, fresh and out of bounds. You will fall in love here, and you will be loved right back.
—Philip Nikolayev

With #specialcharacters where even the title is special Shmailo has managed to split language into its common & least common denominators/principles: sound, meaning, symbol, feeling (text/ure) as well as providing us with a range of voices from child to adult & male to female within a range of styles & mannerisms from the ultra-experimental to quirky “innocent” rhymes like her sexy riff on “the 12 days of Christmas” in her classic “The Other Woman’s Cunt.” Her knowledge of the “WORD” & how to use it extends from darkly humorous to warm, lyrical, tender & painful . . . This is a major work by a major poet.
—Steve Dalachinsky

The opening piece catches the first 12 Fibonacci numbers and finesses them into giddy remembrances of an octogenarian's most significant birthdays. Then, the pages of poetry spiral with the 89 year old, ever outwards, or perhaps inwards, toward her infinity. Stream of consciousness narration, witty footnoted asides, plays with parentheses and fonts . . . Shmailo's poetry sucked me into/out of its golden spiral.
—Moira Richards, Cape Times (South Africa)

I thought this was going to be all poetry, but it is much more experimental than that, ending with a wonderful piece about a woman who is close to the end of the line with aging, mental illness, and poverty. It's called "MIRROR, or a Flash in the Pan." It is very close to fiction, although it certainly has passages of poetry. It's an excellent piece, crystal clear and shockingly honest. The collection also includes what is rightfully maybe Shmailo's most famous (popular?) poem . . . "The Other Woman's Cunt". This one is angry, raunchy, vicious and — by the way! — hilarious. There is a fair amount of typographical experimentation and deep connections to literature and mythology, but at its heart, as a whole, the book has the remarkable quality of being extremely moving even when you aren't sure what's going on.
—Meredith Sue Willis, Books for Readers

Monday, May 12, 2014

Writing Across Borders: National Writers Union Conference on Immigration 5/18

The National Writers Union Conference on immigration, "Writing Across Borders," is this Sunday! Alexander Cigale, Irina Mashinski, and I will be reading at 4:00 pm at the "Immigrant Cocktail Hour" and I'll be participating in the panel "The Language of Migration" with Claudia Serea! It will be a brilliant day of literature and journalism. Join us!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Are you a #specialcharacter?

For Victory Day (the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union): How My Family Survived the Camps

Was micht nicht umbringt, macht mich starker:
What does not kill me makes me stronger.
Nietzsche said this about other things
Not this.

How did my family survive the camps?
Were they smarter, stronger than the rest?
Were they lucky?
Did luck exist in Dora-Nordhausen,
Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen?

How did my family survive?
They were young, my mother and father, in 1943
Twenty years old when taken as slaves.
No one knew my father was a soldier, a communist
So he was not shot
Or taken to be gassed.
My grandmother said quickly to the Germans
He is a mechanic; they needed mechanics
My grandmother, Soviet businesswoman
Begged and bribed the Ukrainian kapos
Begged and bribed the Germans, not SS
They took my father, son of a commissar
And shot the other men.

How did my family survive?
They offered no resistance
Did they collaborate?
Is complicity possible without choice?

They marched to Germany, working
Following the German army
Following the front
Digging trenches, carrying metal
These were the good camps, Kalinovka, Peremeshl
There was still food:
My mother recalls eating an entire vat of potatoes
Fouled by kerosene, discarded by the Germans, not SS
The treatment was not cruel, comparatively, not cruel:
In 1944, the Germans
Were as afraid of the Russian front
As the prisoners were of Germany
And of the other camps.
Where they went nonetheless
Where they were sent nonetheless.

How did they survive Erfurt, the selection?
My mother spoke good German
I see her now at the staging camp
Her keen wit dancing around the SS
Like her young Slavic feet
She was young and good-looking
Thin but good-looking
And the SS liked the Ukrainian Frauen.
On the cattle car to Dora
To the chimneys of that camp
My mother rode with her family intact
Thinner but intact
And ready for work.

How did my family survive?
Was it luck?
In Dora-Nordhausen
Where the air smelled of shit and gas
Where the sun rose but never shone
Was there luck?

The boxcar stopped
At the Nordhausen factory
The way out through the crematorium chimney in Dora
Here, my grandmother learned language
Wstavach, Stoi, Ren, schwein, Halt.
In Dora, where not to understand an order meant death
My grandmother learned six languages; after six months
My family could work, hide and ask for bread
In all the languages of Europe.
They learned English the same way.

How did my family survive?
When the Americans came, with chocolate and blankets
My father, six foot one
Was one hundred and twenty pounds
And still we were rich, my mother interjects,
Rich compared to the Jews.
A few months longer, though, a few months longer
We would not have been alive.

How did my family survive?
My grandfather, a teacher
Told this story:
When the Americans came and saw the camp
They invited the people to loot the nearby towns
Take anything, the well-fed soldiers said
My grandfather stood and spoke: We are not animals, he said
But we were, my father interrupts, we were.

How did my family survive?
Survive is not the right word.
I'm alive, my father would say, alive
Alive because I did not die; others died.

Keep breathing, he encouraged me in difficult times
Keep breathing.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


My tongue is bruised
My nude is creaky
Like a cabbage I sit and wait for you
I stutter like an old gun:
Take me
The fast love of my hair.

Your beady little eyes transfix me
Like rats at the foot of my bed
Your limp pendant wrists still hang on my door
You snicker, get a grip.

Your skin is a labyrinth
I follow like a duct
I follow the duct of your eyes like a skein
To the comminatory bull
Eyes forward, now toward, where I leap for the horns;
Won’t you come in, he sighs.

You own too big a piece of me
Your eyes say spare some change and I
Don’t want to I
Take and give no quarter and I’ve
Already cut my hair.

Skin is just sausage we call home.
Skin is just sausage we call home.

Friday, May 02, 2014

560 Brooke Avenue

The walls, barbed wire, barbed, next to a
drive-by window of Burger King: Dios,
is this your way? Electric doors, opened
one at a time, they make a sound, it maddens.
All the time the boys do time, all the time
they say, “Lunacy, this is crazy, crazy mad.”
It is. “Nigga, nigga,” one boy prays, farts as
the fat guard twists his hand: He tries to laugh,
he cries instead: porque? Scared, so scared,
his scarred voice cracks, 15. “Nigga, ay, I here
4 murder,” he lies. O child, perhaps so. My
Jesus of the got-nailed, my angel of the why,
& what could you have done yet, & why are
you here, porque, my God, & donde vamos,
u & I?

(Horizons is a maximum security juvenile prison in the Bronx.)

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