I am very curious about what’s in the water, or the air, in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. Or maybe Jamie Sharpe and Deborah Lisoway would be unique wherever they chose to live. But it’s in the Yukon that they publish The Associative Press, apparently entirely self-financed, with no institutional support.
There was always something mysterious about them. The journal itself shows no address and neither does the website. It wasn’t until I ordered a back issue from TAP and it came in the mail that I found out they are located in the far North. And who was Jamie Sharpe? Every person on the masthead was depicted with the same almost I eventually learned was Jamie’s grandfather. And where did the bizarre illustrations come from?
When I ordered a back issue, I soon saw why they had turned my own flash fiction down. The short prose pieces they do publish are much weirder and more inventive than anything that comes out of my head. Very very cool. But last year, they accepted and published a couple of my poems. Seeing my poetry in print would have been enough to make me happy, but Jamie and Deborah also invite contributors to choose the recipient of a Kiva microfinance loan. Just ahead of my own trip to Bolivia, TAP paid for a loan to a group of Bolivian women.
Then, this month, ECW Press–which does not stand for Extreme Championship Wrestling, but is instead one of the most highly regarded independent presses in Canada, published Jamie’s own book of poetry, Animal Husbandry Today. Deborah wrote me: “I’ve bought up enough copies to send to anyone who wants one to read/review/prop up a wonky table leg.” Even a volume of poems won’t save my table, but I said YES! , and I got to see what Jamie really looks like, discover he was the one all along creating those strange drawings as his style is instantly recognizable in the illustrations printed in the book…
and I’m once again pondering what’s in the water up there. Jamie fits a Dada-like sensibility into precisely structured lines. His contemporary drunks and vandals, roller rinks and bowling alleys coexist with an erudite historical consciousness. My own personal taste? The three “Equilateral Poems” in which he experiments but grounds his poems in observed (invented) experience. Maybe my favorite:
Productive [imagine white space here!] Means
“The whir of fabric,
at such speed, cancelled
thought. For others this
sound haunted sleep, while
Aura spent a week’s wages
on an industrial fan,
placing it next to her cot,
replicating work’s perfect
emptiness in dreams.”
* * *
Oh, I promised you Hell.
Alan Kessler and I crossed paths–must be 20 years ago–at Vermont College’s MFA program. I remember him well and how his fiction probed the darkest places a human being can go. So maybe it’s no surprise that after all this time when he sent me a paperback copy of his novel, A Satan Carol, I found him still exploring what’s worst in us. (Alan had contacted me when Wild Child brought his book out in Kindle format but I don’t have a Kindle. Had to wait for a real book.)
In this novel, all Satan wants is an annual birthday card and damn, as I read, I was ready to strike the Faustian bargain and send him one. The human characters are greedy and vulgar and awful even without his promptings while their heroism is revealed to be hollow and self-serving. Satan’s machinations fail not because of human goodness but usually due to bad timing and random happenstance. I have to admit I didn’t understand all of what Alan was saying about free will but I loved it when the bible made Satan hungry and he ate the Annunciation.
Alan is apparently a happily married father of happy children, but as I told him, if a reader has a moral compass, his dark and twisted tale will keep the needle spinning.
So, a blog post that’s not about prisons or politics. Till next time.