PANK blog will be on hiatus for the summer. Please check back with us around about September 1 for more PANK-Y goodness.
Here’s looking up your old address!
PANK blog will be on hiatus for the summer. Please check back with us around about September 1 for more PANK-Y goodness.
Here’s looking up your old address!
In the darkest cardboard box on skid-row emerges the semicolon shooter Lynne Beckenstein. Join her as she tells how her sobriety led to the royal we (read her story in the Jan. Issue).
1) What is your nautical history? Where does your life intersect with the water?
I’m a terrible sailor – always seasick. But I have spent a lot of time with family from Staten Island, Brighton Beach, and the Jersey Shore. My mother worked for John A. Noble, the maritime artist, so I grew up in a house hung with etchings of ship graveyards like the one in “Scavengers in the Boneyards.”
2) Reading your story made me feel like I was sitting against a live oak, drinking water on a hot day after working in a soy field. Why do I feel this way?
Hard for me to say, but that is evocative! I like the image of stories as thirst-quenching. Continue reading
In her debut novel, Gila Green imagines a near future in which Israel has been divided into two separate nation-states by a costly civil war. Eve Vee, the protagonist with an imaginative and wandering mind, attends a secular university in the otherwise Jewish Orthodox dominated state of Shalem, the newly created and nationally unrecognized state. As the story begins she is a young bride-to-be, woozy with love for her fiancé, Manny. But Manny has been cheating on her—not in the traditional, carnal way, but by secretly studying to become a rabbi and discovering a new, strictly religious lifestyle. Eve, who is far from a devout Jew, refuses to change her own lifestyle to meet Manny’s new needs, and the engagement comes to an abrupt end. But when Eve is visited and persuaded by a “pre-soul”, a ghost-like embodiment of her unborn son, she gives her relationship with Manny a second chance.
One of the novel’s primary concerns is the place of religion in the modern world. Manny embraces a kosher diet and honoring the Sabbath, among other Jewish laws, but Eve finds these practices archaic and inconvenient. She struggles to cook a kosher meal and succeeds only with the help of a virtual guide (one of the few times in the novel that advanced technology and religion find harmony). She refuses to pity her husband when he injures himself (on more than one occasion) fumbling in the dark because he will not use electricity on the weekends. Green reveals both conflict and comedy in the discord between the nonstop reality of contemporary living and cautions of devout behavior. Continue reading
~ by Scott Pinkmountain
Five or six years ago, I was visiting with writer Kate Schatz and her all-around creative husband Jason Pontius. I was playing with their great dog and they brought up that one of the main benefits of owning a dog is you think less about yourself. Then they turned to me and both were like, “Scott, you really need a dog.”
I was totally offended by their vehement assessment of how badly I needed to think less about myself.
I finally now have a dog, and I can say unequivocally that Kate and Jason were 100% right. So without further ado, a list!*‡
How Owning a Dog Can Help You Be a Better Writer
The dog can help you access compassion.
False, hollow writing begins and ends with stick figure characters. Caring for another living creature – cotton-balling the gummy filth from its cavernous ears, bathing it while it whimpers and shivers, tweezering cactus spines from its butt – can force us to see things from its perspective. As writers, compassion and empathy are the bazooka and flamethrower of our arsenal.
It can help you think less about yourself.
I think way too goddamn much about my own work, my own circumstance. Why aren’t those editors or agents getting back to me? Why did I get rejected by that committee? My work deserves attention and support…boo hoo. It doesn’t serve me or the work in any way. Dog helps me leave that shit behind. Now I only have the mental space to concentrate on tucking the chicken bones at the bottom of the trashcan.
It can help you see the world fresh.
I imagine this happens more extremely with a human baby, but at a horrendous cost. With puppies you still get that valuable vicarious ecstatic engagement with the sensory world sans the vein-opening sacrifice component.
The dog needs you.
Seriously, how many of us can say that as writers people “need” our work? Them needing it and not knowing they need it doesn’t count. Being needed helps us feel of value in the world. Feeling valued helps build self-esteem. Self-esteem (in the doses moderated by the humility that the dog will also serve) helps us play god. I mean write.
The dog will humble you.
In part because the dog can do stuff you could never do – it can see and smell and hunt and run and leap like one of the hirsute, naked X-Men. But it will also have you picking up its shit with your hands (while it watches) and doing all kinds of other things that I’m going to let you discover for yourself, but which will take you right down to your lowliest hands-and-knees inner peasant. Good! Every writer should spend at least some of his time elbow deep in shit. Again, it’s all about gaining valuable perspective.
On the flip side, you are above something on a hierarchy.
This doesn’t sound good, I’m aware, and on a spiritual level, I don’t really believe we’re superior to dogs, but on a practical level, you have to be alpha to your pet – for both your and their sanity. This can often stand in stark contrast to our relationship with all the people and institutions we so constantly and repetitively have to “submit” to (fuck that word) for years and years and maybe more years. And also, maybe I will gain some perspective into the responsibility and weight of being in a position of power, which might lead me to empathize with those who have some power over me? Maybe.
The dog can help you feel less sorry for yourself.
You’re more capable than a dog! You have logic and thumbs. Along the hierarchy lines, it can be empowering to be a protector, provider, caregiver, all around font of giving. Even though I can’t place a poem to figuratively save my life, I can literally save another creature’s life – I can’t be entirely pathetic.
You are not alone.
In exchange for all that food and care you give the dog, it will render some services. Sitting in a room by yourself for hours and hours making stuff that maybe (probably) no one will ever see can feel like cushy confinement torture. A dog asleep with its paw resting on your foot is up there with Lithium and hot air balloon rides over the Grand Canyon in terms of potency.
There is someone who is genuinely excited that you exist.
If my dog is lying on the ground and I pass within 10 feet, she starts wagging her tail with the hope that maybe I’m coming over to rub her underparts. If I go away for even a couple hours, the homecoming reception verges on orgasmic. I won’t say I’ve never received a “thank you” from an editor, but I’ve definitely never gotten a tail thump.
Everyone needs someone who will lick their face.
Writers don’t often get that instant gratification of applause (or licks) like musicians can. Having something around that will readily apply their tongue your face, hands and feet fills some of the void of working in a medium with little to no direct audience contact.
Dogs are fucking hilarious.
They eat poo and lick their crotches (then your face), they skulk, they tuck their heads and think that you can’t see them, they snarl at their own reflection, they get so happy that they whiz, they try to hump the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knock at your door, they chase their own tails for chrissake. They’re absurd, broad comedians for whom vaudevillian slapstick (and murder) is their entire realm. Humor is gold, both in writing and life – arguably the most important expressive form. That’s a separate article.
They’re totally honest.
They do not have the capacity to hide their intention or the fact that they just ate your 16 red velvet cupcakes. Being around honest things can be contagious. Some decent art is made from honesty.
They are totally in their bodies.
Something many of us writers can learn from.
They’re just really pretty.
Dogs are foxy. They move with incredible grace. Their musculature, shape, posture, coloring, patterning, can inform our aesthetics on a sensual level, elevate our attention, sharpen our focus for detail, in the same way as a redwood forest on a cliff above the ocean, a room full of Kandinsky’s, a perfumed, satin-sheeted, rotating waterbed.
The dog will get you out of chair regularly.
The dog will get you exercising regularly.
The dog will get you out of bed in the morning.
More than this, they will get you on a schedule.
It can be great motivation to work efficiently and on a schedule knowing that if you don’t walk dog at exactly noon and 8, dog will go berserk and destroy your espardrilles, your LP collection and your heirloom hand-knit afghans, then knock over the trashcan and find those chicken bones you so carefully buried.
They don’t give a shit about writing.
They have nothing whatsoever to do with the literary world. They will never complain about word count, bust you for excessively adverbing, suggest you tighten your metaphors, ask if your characters are intentionally one-dimensional, or make you feel ashamed for reading Harry Potter. They won’t sit on your manuscript for 7 months, then illegibly jot, “Thanks for sending.” Nor will they ever mention AWP or ask you about your “career.” It’s not that dogs are anti-intellectual, they’re pro-slobber.
*If you already have a child, you don’t really need a dog and can mostly disregard this list (you might not get to think about yourself enough).
‡No one should get a dog unless they are committed to keeping it for the duration of its life, and have the time and space to deal with it and treat it properly. Dogs are expensive and require a lot of attention and energy, and if you do it correctly, they will curtail your lifestyle unless you already never leave your house for more than 4 hours at a time. They will probably ruin some of your precious stuff, and they will drive you fucking insane on occasion. And if you do get one, you kind of have to get it from a shelter. Otherwise it will be killed (in your name).
Scott Pinkmountain is a writer and musician living in Pioneertown, CA. His writing has appeared on This American Life, in The Rumpus, A Public Space, HTMLGIANT, and others. He has also released dozens of albums of both instrumental music and songs. He works as a music analyst for Pandora Radio. He can be found at www.scottpinkmountain.com and @spinkmountain
“We are four horsepersons/of a disappointing apocalypse, our famine/is for kindness, for a hand on the arm,/for a word whispered for the sake/of that word’s weight and its balm/on shattered eyes or its healing weight/in a gut yearning for sustenance.”
These lines embody the delicate balance of humor and seriousness found in Gabriel Welsch’s third full length collection of poetry, The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse. First, the reader is tickled by the politically correct word choice of “horsepersons,” only to have that cleverness peeled away to reveal stunning and moving insights about the chaos of a world wrought with television, pop culture, and market capitalism. A simple glance through the table of contents leads one to believe that the collection situates itself solely in humor with slick titles such as ‘The Annoying Questions Faced at Parties by People Who Sell Office Supplies,” “The Television Makes Its Promise Between Channels,” and “Mr. Disagreeable Decides Not to Rant About How He Used to Be Somebody.” However, this collection strays far from shallow provocation, equally balancing coy, tongue in cheek wit alongside startling epiphanies.
Readers who bask in hilarity within poetry will not walk away disappointed from this collection. Welsch’s speakers convey an undeniable jesting tone, and I often found myself smirking with each page turn, as the titles promised a speaker with a keen sense of irony. Consider the first lines of “The Harridan’s Song”:
“It’s like even your shrubbery
wants to flip me off, like the shaggy maple
by the drive wears a Metal Up Your Ass
t-shirt and biker boots, wallet with a chain.
Your yard wants to kick my ass.” Continue reading
Eiko Alexander dragged us through centuries of bloody warfare in “Iao’s Strays,” from our February issue. To the things we are compelled to pick up and hold:
1. Hi. I have been in nearly this exact situation. Why do you suppose some people are absolutely determined to save the most pathetic creatures?
You mean the cats, right? I think some of us are attracted to things that are falling apart; I certainly am. A few years ago I sat in the parking lot of the Iao Valley, taking pictures of those cats until people started laughing at me. I did not try to take one home, but I know people who have wanted to rescue street dogs. Often it doesn’t matter if the animal or person or whatever is actually in distress; you see an opportunity to do what seems like a good thing, and create stories about what will happen after you’re gone. Who will feed it? What if it gets sick?
I think too there’s something about feeling special, like you’re the only person who could care about that diseased and dying thing. I don’t want to admit it, but fixating on those cats at Iao was probably driven in part by my own ego, that need to differentiate from all those oblivious tourists.
2. I absolutely love the tone in this piece, how you can see all the flexes of the narrator. How do you craft these sentences? I imagine it to be a lot of reading things aloud. Who are you addressing this story to; how do you picture her in your head?
Thank you. Most of the time there’s some sort of narration going on in my head, whether it’s fiction or what I ate for lunch. I hear stories before I write them down. I’d been thinking about a story like this, and one morning I heard the narrator’s voice. I had to write as fast as she was speaking so I didn’t lose her. Funny though, I don’t read my work aloud much. I guess I don’t want my own voice to get in the way.
I picture the narrator’s girlfriend as this nice, normal, compassionate person but she’s just as complicit in the sickness in their relationship because so far, she has refused to acknowledge it. That’s where the narrator’s anger comes from. I see the girlfriend as this sort of wide-eyed pretty girl who’s smarter than she seems. Continue reading
Gold Wake Press
86 pages/ $15.95
Anne Champion’s first book, Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), is a lovely accomplishment of enveloping beauty. This poetry collection, which centers on love and relationships (and infidelity, in peculiar), displays a timelessness in image and tone. While reading this sophisticated, yet earthy collection, there were moments where I wondered if I were reading an anthology of ancient love poems by Catullus or Sappho because of her poems’ pure, undiluted images. This is not a criticism; purity and fineness and an authenticity of spirit are all too rare in a cynical, postmodern landscape. This is certainly not to say that this book is not justifiably modern. Rather, it is because Champion lets each poem so fully be itself, that they work so thoroughly across history.
The first half of Reluctant Mistress parallels the more sugarficial, glycerined aspects of romance. And while it occasionally makes gestures towards apparent sentimentality, (the repetitiveness of “Villanelle for Past Lovers” or the weddingscape of “Blessing” are almost problematic), their stunted happiness is intentional—part of the crux of this book is how artificial these feelings are and can be: in the “The Great Show,” she writes, “These awkward, fumbling puppet limbs enjoyed the lead role in that old, artificial tale of love.” It is almost impossible not to write of love this way—especially when writing about your past as a present which does not now exist in the world outside the perfect reality of the poem you have created for it. In “Dabbling in the Occult,” she writes:
” When Amanda’s crush finally pressed her
up against the window inside the school bus,
jostling his tongue with hers the whole ride home,
we thought it must be our potions that did it,
not realizing yet that boys take their power;
they don’t need charms to manifest it.” Continue reading
~by Scott Pinkmountain
I recently had the pleasure of hosting Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner of Tune-Yards in my home and studio for ten days. They came down to the Mojave to get away from the busy-ness of their daily lives in order to focus on material for their next album. Oakland can be a great place to be around musicians and artists, to get stimulated and inspired, to take Haitian dance and drum lessons, but it can be a terrible place to do the kind of heavy lifting needed to write or finish new songs. They set up in my studio and worked with hardly any breaks and essentially no distractions, or none of the kind they’re used to at home. No cars dragging up the street, sirens wailing, social obligations.
After taking a half-day to settle in, Merril and Nate made up a scheduled regiment and kept it going until they were forced to break down their gear. Each morning, I’d cross paths with Merrill in the kitchen around 7:30, after she’d already been up a while, walking, sitting on a high boulder, writing, thinking, singing. Over breakfast, we’d talk about making things. Practice, touring, big ideas, niggling details, history, hopes, anxieties, pleasures and doubts. And again at dinner we’d all talk some more, having left them alone during the day, my one promise being I wouldn’t ask about “how things were going,” with the songs and the album. I didn’t want to add any stress to their process of making the follow up to their highly successful album, whokill, though we talked a lot about making something to fulfill a contract, on a deadline, under scrutiny.
I’ve toured in small doses. I’ve played to crowds large enough to where I couldn’t see the back of the room (not my music, but still). I’ve dealt some with labels and press and things like that, but I’ve never made creative work with anything like the stakes that Tune-Yards is making their new album.
I interviewed Merrill over a year ago, before she’d started writing the new record. She expressed some concern about how it was going to go, but she said that eventually she’d move past her anxieties and get back to the business of being herself. Talking with her now, on the other side of the hurdle, it was impressive to see how well she managed to look past all the pressures and just focus on doing her work. Continue reading
I enjoy moving into the space of a book with the feeling that I can trust what the writer has told me about it. Guess indicates that F IN “began as a ghost story.” What is the difference between what something began as and what it becomes? And how will that becoming (which involves a “((ubiquitous) dead girl” (a becoming which can’t be controlled in the same way that indicating what a project’s beginning is can)) end up altering, terrorizing (“I’m going to have to hurt you”) or enabling me?
The figure on the cover of the book reaches one way but looks another. This is how a “heroine [with] agency and appetite” would have to proceed: moving many ways at once (“if I didn’t have a twin you wouldn’t be seeing her ghost”). I find myself wondering if a blackbird or a mother or a sister will emerge (“the dead come back; it’s just a matter of naming”) and bite this figure as she tries to finger her way to the gold locket, the hope for a golden egg.
What is the most honorable way for me to approach a self-named “erasure”? Knowing “compression is vital to [Guess’] aesthetic” is it honoring to simply enter the succinct yet spacious realm of these pages (some of which only have 5 words on a page) as one would an empty, deteriorating house? Is it an inverse-violation that my desire is to grab red crayon and draw shapes of liminal organs in the agoraphobic clenches of F IN? Does intentionally filling an erasure rape its sparse confidence? I am sorry if it seems that I am obsessing over this; this is a real ethical dilemma for me. I am just not sure: am I really to “erase place” along with how this book began? Or is there something more I can add to its haunting noir? Continue reading
In his expansive arm, Anis Shivani gathers you a great lament. The presence of no ftl drives. Let him take you to bed. (poem in the Jan. Issue) [Bonus Exclusive! Read the worst question he’s ever been asked and his answer.]
1) How do you feel about your older writing? Do you ever go back to try to change those pieces or do they belong to a different, younger you?
No I never try to do that. Recently I was tempted to change my book The Fifth Lash and Other Stories, which i wrote almost a decade ago, though the book has only recently been published. I changed things stylistically a bit, but left the content alone. Once something is published, I want to forget I ever wrote it, let alone go back and obsess over it. I’m fine with accepting that older pieces belong to a younger, less sophisticated me.
2) Do you start with a voice, an idea, or do you just start?
In fiction I probably start with a character in a situation–usually a difficult situation. Then I have to build a story around that. It’s easy to visualize and create a whole world once I’ve got a grip on a single character in a concrete situation. I think the (philosophical) idea is what prompts imagining the initial character, but it’s best to forget the idea, whatever it is, as soon as the material circumstances of the story start to become apparent.
In poetry, I may have a feeling or a tone, often hard to capture precisely, which I start with and just run with, to see what happens. It’s not easy to decipher quite how things come together in poetry but the unified tone is probably the glue. Continue reading