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Tin House Reels: Carolina Melis

Tin House Reels is excited to share the work of Carolina Melis this week. Melis’ short film Le fiamme di Nule combines live footage and animation to tell the story of three weavers, Anna, Rosa, and Maria, competing in a contest in the Sardinian village of Nule. When all is revealed, the women create three very different tapestries, the result of which is as surprising to the characters as it is to the audience.

Drawing from her past as a choreographer, Melis transforms the making of the textiles into a flamenco like dance, giving the women’s labor a hypnotic quality that draws out the grace of their movements. Animated sequences of black silhouettes, as well as stark photographs of the village broken by textile patterns, give the short a feeling of cinematic folklore, with a tinge of high fashion. Given this combination, it is not surprising that the rich grayscale cinematography and high contrast lighting calls to mind such Italian black and white classics as Il Posto, The Bicycle Thief, and the oeuvre of Federico Fellini.

The story was inspired by Melis’ visit to Nule, where she became fascinated with their traditional textile-making techniques. Melis often works on projects with fashion companies like Max Mara, Prada, and Chloe, so she pays special attention to fabrics, pattern and collage. After making the film, Melis started to be commissioned to design tapestries that were then made by artisans in Nule.

“I almost feel like I’m becoming part of my own film!” she said.

This film was made in conjunction with the Istituto Superiore Etnografico Della Sardegna.

Carolina Melis is a filmmaker, illustrator, and art director who has created projects and work for BBC, IKEA, MTV, Adidas, Microsoft, Volkswagen, Max Mara, Prada, Chloe, Vogue, and Sony PSP, to name only a few. She also produced music videos for Colleen, Metronomy, and Four Tet. Her work on the ongoing BBC3 re-brand Threeworld, has won her a Brand Identity award at Eurobest.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House. She is a writer and producer, focusing on music, documentary, and experimental media. She is currently pursuing her master’s in Critical Theory and Creative Research at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work totinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.


Posted in Poetry, Videos

Comments: 0

The Last Memory

In my father’s truck was this: an extra pipe, orange bailing twine, a bottle of Gink (“World’s Best Dry Fly Dressing”), a black film canister full of fishing flies (bought for a buck each from his barber), Dr. Grabow pipe filters, an “Emeritus” parking permit for the university, a Stetson cowboy hat size 59-7 3/8, a bottle of mouthwash, and dust and bits of hay and a few ear tags for the cattle.

This was twelve years ago and it is exactly the last memory of him I have before the Alzheimer’s. The last moment I had with the Regular Him, the man I’d grown to know both as a child and as an adult. The last moment I can conjure up that is pure and unadulterated by disease, when his smile was a simple smile and his words were confident and secure.

A simple moment: I was sitting in his truck, snooping around while I zipped on my raincoat, watching him fish in the Yampa River in northern Colorado. I was, in fact, wanting to notice the details of his life, which is why I checked the hat size and laughed at the mouthwash, because it was an old family joke—my mother hated how he tried to cover up the smell of tobacco, because then he smelled like pipesmoke covered in mint, she said.

He’d come up to meet me—a father-daughter day—in Steamboat Springs. I’d escaped for the weekend to think and to relax—because my own life was chock-full: two toddlers, a writing career, dog and chickens and gardens. I had a life that looked like the inside of his truck, full of a mishmash of messy and wonderful details.

So maybe I should forgive myself. For not having more solid memories of him before the disease became apparent. Somewhere in the next year or two, there should have been more moments like this one. Why aren’t there? It’s hard to know or remember exactly when the shift occurred, when I started noticing strange slips of memory, but there was a bit of time in there where we must have had a great conversation or happy moment. And yet. I have no memory before the slip of his.

Since I can’t recall or conjure anything into being between this fishing trip and his diagnosis, I often close my eyes and focus on what I do have: I’d been staying in the old hunting cabin he built the same year I was born. He and his brothers did most of the work, and none of them were carpenters, and so it was crooked and a bit falling apart. It was my favorite place to go, though, because it was familiar and alive and because my toddler handprint was put into the cement pad at the corner. He’d come to visit me for the day and asked I wanted to go fishing. No, I told him, I didn’t want to go that year – I didn’t even have a license – but that I’d like to go and watch.

Which is what I did that day. My father looked so happy, so fluid. He’d cast upstream, let the fly sink a little as it drifted down, and at a particular moment known only to him, he would jerk and reel the fly back in. I left the truck and sat in the mottled pebbles on the beach, sifted the small rocks through my hands. My father was smoking his pipe, an old corncob thing, out of fashion but his favorite, and he always smoked Middleton’s Cherry Blend tobacco, a red and white package I have known from earliest memory. He was wearing a bright turquoise Western shirt and Wranglers and had traded out his cowboy boots to brown hip waders. His hair was all white, as were the unshaved whiskers poking from his tough skin, and he was smiling even with the pipe in his mouth. His line periodically wisped above me close enough that I ducked.

“Had one a while ago,” he said at one point. “Hook didn’t set.” Then he mumbled to himself: the low levels of water, this particular fishing hole wasn’t the same, the drought. He had a snag. He waded out into the water, following the line, came back, successful, cast again.

Suddenly, he had a fish on the line. He bent backwards and sideways to get the hook set, reeled it in, crouched to take it off. A puff of pipe smoke filled the air, and then the fish, a rainbow, flapping its tail furiously, was slipped back into the water. The details of its mottled side flashed before it disappeared. “Oh my,” my father said, looking over at me. “That was a pretty one.”

Laura Pritchett is the author of the novels Stars Go Blue (Counterpoint Press, June 2014), Sky Bridge (winner of the WILLA Fiction Award), and Hell’s Bottom, Colorado (winner of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and the PEN USA Award). She is also the author of Great Colorado Bear Stories (nonfiction) and editor of three anthologies: Pulse of the River, Home Land, and Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers. She teaches fiction, nonfiction, and environmental writing at various workshops around the country and is a member of the faculty at Pacific University’s low residency MFA program.


Posted in Essays

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Total Utter Madness: A Story of Soccer

As Thursday brings us the the 20th installment of the World Cup, we look back on writer Michael J. Agovino’s personal history with the sport that will come to dominate global discussions for the next month.

From Issue 43, Games We Play.

I. AUGUST 7, 1982:

FIFA/UNICEF World All-Star Game, Live at Giants Stadium

The day of my first soccer game began in the Bronx, where I was from. We didn’t have a car, my father didn’t drive, nor did he make any apologies for that, so we took a city bus, the QBX 1, to the number 6 subway at Pelham Bay Station. This didn’t take us to any game or stadium, but first to 125th Street, where we, the only white people, crossed the platform for the 4/5 express, to Grand Central, then to the shuttle, and finally to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The steps from the subway, menac­ing and dark in those years, to whatever was above—a plaza, a street, light, safety in numbers—usually brought an exhale and relief, but at the Port Authority, it was the opposite. It was an ascension into still more, and diverse, rings of despair—and the pent-up energy of wants and needs. It was at once the most alive of spaces and the most terrifying, besides, that is, the number 6 train that we had just taken, a portable mural of affirmation and rage, the elevated tracks buttressed by tenement carcasses.

Weeks before, this ad had appeared in the New York Times: “For the first time in history, the world’s greatest soccer play­ers—selected on the basis of their perfor­mance in the 1982 World Cup—will col­lide in an international All-Star match. Above all else, they’ll be fighting for one goal: to help the world’s children.” The game was sponsored by UNICEF; tickets were pricey at fifteen, eleven, and seven dollars. If you couldn’t make it, the ad said, be sure to make a donation to UNICEF on East Thirty-Eighth Street. It was billed as “Europe vs. The Rest of The World.”

My father, who knew little about soc­cer but encouraged my newfound interest in it, bought us tickets high in the upper deck. It would be hard to get to, he said, but there would be buses from the Port Authority. We’d been to Shea and Yankee stadiums together and Madison Square garden, but never to Giants Stadium and never on such a journey, across two rivers, to see a game.

The bus to Giants Stadium was crowded, unlawfully so I’m certain, not an inch of standing room to be wriggled. But the law likely didn’t care about us; we were “other.” If there were white people, and there were a few, none aside from us appeared to speak English. Mostly, though, there were non-white people, with every texture and curlicue of hair, every shade of skin, from caramel to onyx, but different, it was clear—through speech, gait, stance— from the black people I lived amongst in Co-op City or on the 6 train or at 125th.

It may have reeked of an admixture of perspiration and, with windows wide open, bus exhaust, but it may have been the most comfortable uncomfortable coach ever to depart from Forty-Second Street and Eighth Avenue, everyone giddy, full of smiles and harmonies. They couldn’t wait to see their countryman, or neighboring countryman or someone at least from their part of the world, in performance: Thomas N’Kono of Cameroon, Faisal Al­dakhil of Kuwait, Julio César Arzú and Roberto Figueroa of Honduras, Lakhdar Belloumi of Algeria, Jaime Duarte of Peru, Júnior and Socrates of Brazil, and Astolfo Romero of Colombia and Hugo Sánchez of Mexico, even if they weren’t even in the World Cup. Soccer was the game of Europe—Italy, young men with names and faces and noses like mine, had just won the World Cup, beating, to the delight of everyone it seemed, the West Germans— but this was the game of the Third World, of poor people. For that, I liked it more.

Outside the stadium, soccer balls ping­ponged up and down, to and fro, off feet, thighs, and foreheads all over the vast parking lot, which appeared interminable, concentric circles of sterility in middle-of-nowhere New Jersey brought to life by people from every latitude. If there were “real Americans”—whatever that means— they were the minority and arrived in cars.

It was intimidating, the sheer size of the crowd and the steep incline of the upper deck. Yankee and Shea hadn’t been like this. It usually had no more than ten or twenty thousand, maybe forty if the Yan­kees had a key rival in town. I’d never sat so high up in those stadiums. It felt as though it was so crowded, we’d all spill out of the upper tiers.

Just before kickoff, Danny Kaye, the entertainer and UNICEF ambassador, told us, on behalf of all the world’s children, to scream. he said to us, “Make the loudest noise ever heard!” And we did, the 76,891 of us, the second largest crowd in the history of U.S. soccer, and Giants Stadium shook. The game program, like everything from that night, was different in the best ways. It was sophisticated, worldly, informative, not merely photos of Mr. Met juxtaposed with Schaefer Beer ads. The first page had a letter from President Ronald Reagan. When my father saw his picture, he said, in his East Harlem Italian inflection, “disgrazia,” disgrace. It had a letter from João Havelange, as stately as any U.N. Secretary General, who was the president of the world governing body known as Fédération Internationale de Football Association in Zurich, Switzerland, FIFA for short. It had a profile of UNICEF, of its mission, and photos of handicapped kids, about my age, fourteenish, in Rwanda, at the Gatagara Mission Center, trying their best to kick the ball on a dusty patch. Another photo showed starving children in Somalia’s Sabaad Refugee Camp. Rwanda, Somalia, now I’d have to find them in the Britannica Atlas, my favorite book, just the way I’d had to find Cameroon, its capital Yaoundé, Kuwait, Honduras (and Tegucigalpa, but Daddy, how do you pronounce Tegucigalpa?), Vigo, Gijón, La Coruña, and Zaragoza in the previous weeks when I came across this game I knew little of that now obsessed me.

Someone named Brian Glanville, “a soccer correspondent for the London Sunday Times,” wrote about the different national styles of soccer. What a thought. I never heard of this in baseball. There was no Brazilian way of playing baseball or English way, we couldn’t blame the Scots for ruining baseball, as Glanville was blaming them now for screwing up soccer. Glanville wrote that the Czechoslovaks were known for their “Danubian deliberation and pattern weaving.” There was a byline from someone named Juvenal, just Juvenal, who wrote for the Argentinian magazine El Grafico, and Rob Hughes, another “correspondent” for the London Mail on Sunday. I loved how they used that word, “correspondent,” and how these pieces read like serious, global concerns. It made sense that there were soccer correspondents. Could I be a soccer correspondent? It had profiles and a photo of each player: Rossi, the hero; Keegan; Rummenigge; Platini; Camacho; Antognoni, like the director, almost, who scored the winner past the great N’Kono in the final minutes. They played for wonderful-sounding teams, not the London lions or Paris Panthers but Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, Alianza Lima, Canon Yaoundé, Corinthians. Zico, who shared my birthday, played for a team called Flamengo. There was a World Cup quiz and primers of all the great players from days past. It was all there, in this Baedeker of the game, its past, present, future. Another headline read, and this was a delight: “U.S. Soccer: The Time Is Now.” There was a photo of an American player for the Portland Timbers of the NASl who represented U.S. soccer’s future. his name was Glenn Myernick.

I read the game articles the next day in the New York Times. One claimed that Belloumi, the Algerian who helped shock West Germany a few weeks earlier, left his honeymoon early to be there. Falcão, the lanky Brazilian, attended despite his father having just suffered a heart attack. I clipped these articles and attached them, with the ticket stubs, to the program. I’d keep them forever, even if it turned out to be worth something, no matter how much I might need the money.

We made the loudest sound ever—you should’ve heard us—just like Danny Kaye wanted. And then, over the PA system, they played John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

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Posted in Essays, From The Vault

Comments: 1

The Other Side

Flash Fidelity

Dad tells only one story about me, his middle child, a toddler, found pecking the buttons on the television console with a fat, sticky finger. He scolds me, tells me to stop. I ignore him, keep pushing the buttons, switching the channel each time. He raises his voice, and I ignore that, too. He smacks my outstretched hand. Hard, he says. But you don’t cry or wince or turn away. You set your jaw, raise your hand, keep pushing that button.

Mom reminds me how, when I was a teenager and arguing with her every day, she started putting this hex on me: When you grow up and have children I hope one of them is exactly like you.

I think now that maybe that hex came through: If I tell my daughter to stop jumping on the bed, she climbs onto the dresser. If I ask her to behave while I take an important call, she throws a tantrum before drawing a beard on her face with a red permanent marker. If I tell her to pick up her toys in the kitchen, she empties a box of cereal on the floor. I might put her in time out, or yell until I’m blue in the face. She does not cry or wince or turn away.

It makes me furious. I want her to behave, even just a little. But she fights me about which shoes to wear, which bowl to use for cereal. She fights me about which clothes she’ll wear and ruin. She fights me about the punishment she gets for fighting me. She can’t win these arguments, because no matter how big and loud and strong she gets, I can always get bigger, louder, stronger. I want her to be a little afraid of me. It’s the only way to break her, I think. This defiant, fearless child. And it’s all I want right now: to break her. Just a little.

***­ ­ ­

But then we are driving to the house where my daughter attends preschool; she is thrashing in her car seat, screaming at the top of her lungs. The body takes a breath, turns up the radio. My daughter spits milk in a wide stream on the upholstery of my first-ever brand-new car and pushes Goldfish crackers irretrievably into the horizontal crevice between the back passenger window and the door. The body takes a breath, adjusts the rearview mirror. But when my daughter starts kicking the back of my elbow with the pointy toe of her pink cowboy boot, I snap, and lean into the backseat of the car and smack her knee. Hard. Hard enough that she grows silent and stares out the window with giant tears rolling down her cheeks. I drag her and her tiny little backpack into the preschool house. The teacher greets us at the door.  Before my daughter has taken off her tiny little coat I’m driving away in the car.

I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t talk to myself or roll down the windows. I try to relax in the silence of my solitary body, but all I can think about is the force of my hand coming down on her knee. I hit her, hard. For nothing at all. For being nearly three. I hit her because she doesn’t know how to control herself, and I don’t know how to let go.

I know how to tighten the cold hard fist of my heart.

I don’t remember how to open it.

The small space of my car closes around me. The air grows hot and stale, and I can’t breathe it in. My back sweats; my heart races. And just as I’m about to let the panic wash over me, I start screaming. It’s not a scream that comes from my throat, or from my lungs, but a scream that comes from the shut place I carry inside me, a scream that could swell and swell without end. It’s made of equal parts terror and rage, multiplied and multiplied by the silence of all these years.

­ ­ ­***­ ­ ­

By the time I get to work, I’ve composed myself again. I’ve cleaned the streaked mascara off my face and reapplied my lipstick. I don’t tell my colleagues what has happened in the car: not about smacking my daughter’s leg, not about the screaming. I teach a class. I meet with students. I eat lunch at my desk.

At the end of the day, I drive back to the preschool house to pick up my daughter. When I knock on the door, I can see she’s just inside, waving to me, her mouth stretched open in a crooked, gap-toothed smile, her arms open and reaching toward me, her eyes open and shining with joy. The door opens and she throws herself into my arms. She holds nothing back.

With her head against my shoulder, the weight of her tiny body against my chest, I hold her tight and don’t let go. I want nothing to break her. Not even me. Not ever. Not even a little.

Lacy M. Johnson is the author of Trespasses: A Memoir.  She is currently Director of Academic Initiatives at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at University of Houston, where she teaches interdisciplinary art. She lives in Houston, TX.


Posted in Essays, Flash Fidelity, Tin House Books

Comments: 1

What We’re Reading

Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I just finished Stacey D’Erasmo’s Wonderland, which follows one-time indie darling Anna Brundage on her hopeful comeback tour. The novel zigzags from the present tour to her past and back again, especially her artist father and the long but slowly weakening shadow he casts as artist and inspiration. The book’s most wonderful passages are all about music, how it feels to play it, to soar in it, to struggle for it and sometimes to fail at reproducing that elusive shimmer you first heard in the brain. It’s the details hat burrowed into me as I read: Anna and her band on stage, the languorous but bold sex scenes, the album titles D’Erasmo came up with for Anna that are so well chosen they show me Anna’s whole career.  I keep wanting to see the album covers for Whale and Bang Bang, and really they should have been made just to become the book’s cover. (Paperback editors, take note!) The novel even comes right out and says that Bang Bang was a disaster, but I refuse to believe it because I’m pretty sure I can hear this music in my head now. It is possible I have become over invested in this, but D’Erasmo is such a potent, intoxicating writer, who makes artistic creation feel so tactile and many-chambered, that seriously, how can you blame me?

Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): Coming out of the horror that is BookExpo, there were a trio of September novels that literary folks were excited about, galleys being snapped up quickly: Dylan Landis’ Rainey Royal, which will be out September from Soho Press (an excerpt staring the fierce Manhattan teen who has to navigate the surreal jazz-house her father runs, appeared in Tin House #56 and was just chosen for an O’Henry Prize; David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (coming from Random House, and it is next on my nightstand stack); and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Part David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, part Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, part Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it is a post-apocalyptic (by pandemic flu) literary puzzle, jumping time and characters effortlessly as it follows an itinerant Shakespearian and musical troupe as it wanders the blighted US landscape. I urge you to pre-order all three.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): Faithful readers of Tin House #FridayReads will remember my effusive gushing over mysterious French author Antoine Volodine’s short stories written under the name Manuela Draeger. On the recommendation of those stories’ faithful translator, Brian Evenson, I recently picked up another Volodine project, We Monks and Soldiers, a collection of linked stories written under the name Lutz Bassman (translated by Jordan Stump). Post-apocalyptic and strange like the Draeger stories, the Bassman collection is darker, drearier, and more experimental. For instance, the same story appears twice, told differently and with slightly altered details, and by the second telling, the world Bassman invents is more complete and the shards of hope seem smaller, but shine brighter in the very dark world Bassman evokes. The stories are populated (and usually narrated) by post-human beings (Angels? Bird people? I don’t know, they have wings.) trying, desperately or idly, to save humanity from its self-inflicted death, or at least comfort it in its dying moments. (Please, someone suggest something lighter for me to read!)

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): I recently came across the work of Lynd Ward, specifically his graphic novel God’s Man, while researching art for a book cover. Ward published six wordless novels of woodcut illustrations between 1929 and 1937. His Expressionist prints have strong Art Deco elements, with an obvious German influence, as well. In 139 panels, Gods’ Man tells the story of a struggling artist who sells his soul for fame and fortune. This morality tale is predictably dark and Ward’s art is effective in communicating isolation, ambition, and violence.

Posted in Desiderata

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Big A, Little A

Flash Fridays

The boys had arrived at camp in West Glacier from different towns, but wearing the same stained sneakers, torn jeans, and black T-shirts scrawled with the names of punk bands as old as their fathers. Now they wore collared button-ups. Pressed khaki shorts and white knee socks. Hightop boots with thick laces. In this bizarro teenage summer, outdressing the park rangers had become a means of rebellion.

“Gimme your gum,” Little A said, holding out his hand. The cabin was quiet and the bunk springs groaned as Big A leaned over the railing to spit the wad of spearmint into Little A’s palm.

“Don’t worry,” said Little A, “I ain’t gonna put it in your hair.” Then he plucked a brown pine needle from the nightstand, where the Crass record sat propped beneath the window like a moonlit altar.

Little A pressed the base of the pine needle into the gum. The smell of spearmint made his mouth wet. Big A seemed to understand without a word what was in the works. His thick fingers parted the record sleeve and slid the vinyl loose. The boys sat beside one another on the lower bunk. Little A slid a pencil from his breast pocket and set its eraser on his thigh. He gripped the pencil firmly upright and waited for Big A to lower his gaze to it.

Outside, the lake glinted and its dark water churned patterns that the boys steered the motorboat over every morning. Little A spoke to the tourists through an intercom while they lathered sunscreen over their children. “Mountain pine beetles only care about mountain pine beetles,” he’d say when they pointed at the tips of the trees that had dried out and turned copper. The radio wire’s connection was iffy and Little A wrapped the cord tightly around his little wrist before speaking into the receiver. “That’s why the male pheromone pouches work,” he told them. “We hang them from the healthy trees. Just one sniff keeps the other males away.”

In the afternoons, the boys would navigate the forest armed with a staple gun, a topographical map, and backpacks filled with the white plastic pouches. They’d been a unit like this all summer. Out in the forest, Big A was nimble. He’d crouch before Little A, who climbed his back like a picket fence to reach sturdy branches. Little A noted beetle damage on the white pines and tucked the dead needles into his pockets like they might be clues to the mystery of nature’s selfishness. As they hiked, the boys grunted punk rock tunes, taking turns on rhythm guitar and vocals. But it was never as good as the real thing.

In the cabin that night, Little A whispered, “Ok,” and Big A lowered the record’s hole carefully over the sharpened point of the pencil. Then he slapped his wide palm gently along the record’s edge until it came to speed.

Little A clenched the wad of gum between his front teeth and slowly lowered his head. He’d thought of this moment often, of the sound of the record pulsing in his mouth, and the anticipation was a forest fire. Big A lowered his head too, peering at the needle from the side. Big A gripped Little A’s hair between the fingers of his free hand and directed his head gently into place. As the pine needle found the groove, the boys sat quiet. Intent. Listening for it. Little A closed his eyes and breathed through his mouth, which tasted like Big A’s mouth, like an entire summer in the forest.

Big A turned his head and pressed his ear to Little A’s cheek. The cartilage was warm from excitement and matched the curve of Little A’s face.

“Do you hear it?” Big A whispered.

Little A had listened to the record so many times, it shouldn’t have taken anything at all to trigger it in his head. But the pine needle was brittle and Little A’s mouth couldn’t project it right. Saliva pooled under his tongue and ran over his lower lip. The music came in whining scratches, the scuttling of pine beetles, a memorized national park tour over a shitty motorboat intercom. But Big A pressed harder against Little A’s cheek, his ear almost inside his mouth, and Little A could hear Big A’s pulse thumping hard against his gums. The perfect time of his heart buzzing his little teeth.

“You hear it?” Big A asked again.

“Yeah,” Little A whispered. “Fucking punk rock.”


Andrew Bales lives in Wichita, Kansas, where he works on the staffs of NANO Fiction and American Short Fiction. This fall he will join the creative writing PhD program at the University of Cincinnati.

Posted in Flash Fridays

Comments: 1

Tin House Reels: Kirsten Lepore

Story from North America, this week’s Tin House Reels feature, seems to come from another moment in time. Animated to look as though it was created in Gustaf Tenggren’s studio, the film fluctuates between a Kafkaesque nigthmare and the giddy hallucinations of a college acid trip.

In creating the look of the film, Kirsten Lepore and her collaborator Garrett Davis employed the time-consuming process of animating individual drawings rather than going with a digital approach. The short is a departure for Lepore in other ways as well. “Story from North America was pretty much the opposite of my normal animation/storytelling process—which was a pleasant change,” says Lepore. “Usually I board every scene meticulously and stick pretty closely to my original plan. Even my storytelling process usually begins with some material or technique I want to explore, which I then develop a story around.”

Lepore and Davis met while attending MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, where they collaborated to animate Davis’ “The Spider Song,” which became Story from North America. Davis’ song was recorded only once, and Lepore wanted to extend the rawness of the song to the animation style. This resulted in a looser process, which Lepore found to be liberating.

“We decided from the beginning that we weren’t going to storyboard the film at all. Instead, we’d have a quick meeting where we each took a different verse, vaguely discussed the direction we wanted to go in for that scene, and then just split up and did our thing separately. It was really exciting to come together to shoot our verses as we would finish—since we had no idea what either one’s would look like. To keep with the ‘raw’ spirit, we also agreed that we wouldn’t pencil test or redo any animation. It was all about just going straight ahead and embracing any weird idiosyncrasies that would arise in the animation.”

There is a unique humor and openheartedness to much of Lepore’s work. Combining that warmth with Davis’ bizarre, Grimm-influenced storytelling instincts proved to be the perfect combination for the cauldron, as Story from North America casts the sort of spell that stops time and allows you to forget that feet are meant to stay planted on the ground.

Kirsten Lepore is a director and animator based in LA, with an MFA from CalArts. Her films have taken top prizes at SXSW, Slamdance, the Stuttgart Animation festival, Florida Film Fest, Arizona Film Fest, the Vimeo Awards, the Annie Awards and many others. She’s given presentations everywhere from Pixar to Portugal and has also been featured in Juxtapoz, Shots Magazine, Animation Magazine, Focus Features, and named one of the 50 most creative people by Creativity Magazine.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House. She is a writer and producer, focusing on music, documentary, and experimental media. She is currently pursuing her master’s in Critical Theory and Creative Research at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work totinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in Videos

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Summer Reading: Manuel Gonzales

Manuel Gonzales’ story “When We Realize We Are Broke,” is now available to read online. Our managing editor Cheston Knapp coined a new phrase to describe it: berzankrupt. We asked Manuel a few questions about writing the story, writing in general, and reading.

Tin House: What was the biggest obstacle in writing this story?

Manuel Gonzales: The biggest obstacle for this story was coming up with the right tone for the ending. I wrote the story, the first draft, in about a day, and then spent the next four or five months rewriting the very last page. My first stab at the ending was clearly a cop out — on my part as a writer but also on the narrator’s part, as a character. It was all too easy the way I originally ended it, and then I ran through a number of versions in which everything was outsized and over the top, and only at the last minute realized that something normal, something quiet might be the most crushing thing for this guy telling this story.

TH: When you read this story in the future, what do you think you’ll associate with the period of writing it?

MG: Looking back at this, I think I’ll associate this story with two main things: this sense of having just barely escaped being on the cusp of what this narrator goes through, and a sudden urge to play around with a story that hews more closely to realism. There aren’t any unicorns or faeries or zombies or robots in this story, just a guy in a relentless downward spiral, losing all control of life and his own ability to reckon with it honestly.

TH: Do you have any writing rituals?

MG: Lately, a very frustrating writing ritual — or pattern, anyway — is that I will try to work for two or three hours, very early in the morning, I will get absolutely nowhere, and then two hours later, when I am unable to do anything about it, some clarifying idea will arrive fully formed in my head. And so it will seem as if I’m working out of synch.

TH: What was the last sentence you underlined in a book?

MG: So, I don’t underline in my books, or I haven’t in maybe fifteen years. I’ve just finished packing away all my books, and so I can’t get to any specific sentence, but the last book I underlined in was IN THE HEART OF THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY, by William Gass, in the introduction.

TH: What is the next story I should read?

MG: If you picked up this issue of Tin House, you’ve got at least three of the next stories you should read, starting with Jamie Quatro’s  story, then moving to Jess Row, and then Adam Johnson, which are the three I read in quick succession as soon as I received my copy.

Manuel Gonzales is the author of The Miniature Wife and Other Stories and the forthcoming novel The Regional Office is Under Attack!

Posted in Interviews

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Hungry For Home

Germans have the same complaint about American baked goods and Hollywood happy endings: too sweet. Since moving to Berlin six years ago, I have received ample criticism for my cobbler, a simple recipe I received from my late grandmother in Mississippi: one stick of butter, one cup of sugar, one cup of flour, one cup of fruit, little bit of salt, little bit of baking soda. This recipe was my go-to crowd pleaser in the States, and I don’t have a huge repertoire standing behind it (my second option is a bowl of strawberries served with chocolate squares. Third and final option: ice cream and toppings).

As much as I wish my adopted countrymen would beg me to bake them cobbler, I understand where they’re coming from. I dislike many of the pies I sample here, which taste like everyone’s still on GDR rations. I put sugar on top of my (unsweetened) whipped cream in restaurants, which draws looks of disgust. Moreover, I can easily summon my most wrenching cake experience, which occurred not in Germany but in Shanghai, China, on my twelfth birthday, in 1993.

We had arrived in Shanghai just a few hours earlier. We weren’t on a family romp through China, to take a few pictures of the Great Wall and head back to Atlanta: we were moving there, as per instructions from my father’s company. Over the next two years, Dad would be setting up a joint venture with a Chinese firm, while my sister Blair and I attended the American school, where my mother would also teach. On paper, it sounded fine, even thrilling. But through the smeared taxi window, on the nighttime drive from the airport to our hotel, things looked grim. Streetlights were few and far between, and their dim yellow halos briefly illuminated concrete housing blocks and dirty tile buildings. Bikers wove in and out of our lane, momentarily lit by our taxi’s headlights like deep-sea creatures swimming past a diver’s lamp.

By the time we reached the hotel, we were tired and hungry. We schlepped over to the Shanghai Jax, a hotel restaurant that promised “Western cuisine,” including hamburgers and Caesar salad. After the waiter took our orders, Blair held her water glass up suspiciously. “What’s this white stuff floating in here?” she asked. “It’s fine,” Dad said. My mom hailed the waiter. He brought Blair another glass of water, with just as much white stuff, and Blair, to my surprise, was allowed Sprite – a windfall for her, since we were usually just permitted milk or juice.

After dinner, Mom and Dad exchanged secretive glances as three waiters suddenly surrounded our table and burst into a heavily accented rendition of “Happy Birthday.” A fourth produced a glistening slice of chocolate cake, topped with slick white icing and a single candle was placed before me. “Not bad,” Blair said. I batted her hovering fork away, blew out the candle and took my first bite.

It was a big bite, which was a mistake. The cherries tasted gluey and rancid, and instead of safe, comforting chocolate, my mouth was filled with a sharp, unfamiliar flavor: amaretto, which the chef had included in stunning proportions. I wanted to protest, to send it back; or even better, to send myself back to Atlanta, where they knew how to make decent birthday cake. I could feel Mom and Dad’s expectant gaze. Blair, meanwhile, dug in. To buy time, I took a sip of the water, which looked like it had tiny shreds of paper towel floating in it. I was counting on Blair to complain about the cake, so I wouldn’t have to be the ungrateful one.

Unfortunately, she licked her fork clean, and reached over for more. I felt alone in my disproportionate disappointment, betrayed by the cake and by her cheerful tucking in. But I didn’t want to blow my twelfth birthday by acting like a four-year-old, so I smiled and took a small bite of icing. That night, in our hotel beds, we each fell into a deep jet-lagged coma, four strange white particles drifting to sleep in a city of fourteen million Shanghainese residents. The next morning, we woke up foreign.

My six years in Berlin are the longest I’ve lived anywhere. And while I understand most of the German being spoken around me, I still remain leery of many German dishes. Early autumn, when cabbage is everywhere, is especially rough. In the farmer’s market, as Berliners beam at the dark purple heads like they’ve won the lottery, I sigh and reach for the last sad-looking tomatoes of the season.

One German culinary tradition I can truly get behind, however, is “Abendbrot,” or “evening bread,” which basically involves taking everything out of the refrigerator, arranging it on platters in an appealing manner, and calling it dinner. Unwittingly, I was an “Abendbrot” aficionado for years before I even set foot in Germany (often to the disappointment of my dinner party guests), just as I was routinely making “Apfelschorle” (apple juice and seltzer water) without knowing there was a country where this most delicious of beverages was readily available, even at gas stations, with the ingredients mixed in just the right proportions (slightly more apple juice than seltzer water).

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Posted in Carte du Jour, Essays

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Issue #60: Summer Reading

The writer’s job is not simply to make the reader look at the world differently, but experience it in a new way. E.L. Doctorow says, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining but the feeling of being rained on.” In their stories, Jamie Quatro, Ken Calhoun, and Joan Silber take you inside three wonderfully strange families, bathing us in details that make us feel as if we are with them. That rain isn’t always a gentle summer shower. Sometimes it’s a storm. This is what Adam Johnson does in his artful and disturbing short story, “Dark Meadow.” In the simplest terms, the story is about child pornography. Yet Johnson, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, moves beyond the sensationalism of the conceit and into the deeper realm of empathy and pathos, which is the stuff of true art. I am proud that we are publishing it.

Karl Ove Knausgaard has been called Norway’s Proust for his painfully and precisely observed autobiographical six-volume novel (or memoir), My Struggle. On the occasion of the third volume being translated into English, Scott Esposito talks to Knausgaard about his attempts to come to grips with “the place of death in our world, the complex legacy left by one’s parents, alcohol and addiction, the struggle to be moral, and the place of masculinity in the modern world.”

On the other end of the length and breadth spectrum, poets are the masters of the distilled moment, stopping time to focus all of one’s being on a single phrase or word, life and death captured for an instant, forever changing the reader. Here Nick Flynn stops on the unknowable, Monica McClure the baffling treasures, Meg Freitag the ages of dwelling.

Wherever you are reading this—on the beach, in a field of flowers, on the subway, sneaking it at the office—we hope that you have moments where time stops and art takes over.

On Sale Now.

Posted in General

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May Gems


Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): My best cultural encounter this month? I’m so glad you asked! You have to, have to, have to go see We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!), which is positively the greatest film I’ve seen so far this year. Set in 1980s Stolkholm, We Are the Best stars pre-teen punk Bobo, a totally charming social outsider whose round glasses and apple cheeks give her a decidedly Moomintroll look, and her fast-talking, instigator friend Klara. After a group of older boys at their youth center (youth centers! bless you, Scandinavia!) make fun of Bobo and Klara, the girls take their revenge by co-opting the boys’ band’s practice space, which requires starting a band of their own. Totally unphased by their lack of musical qualifications, Bobo and Klara cross enemy lines to recruit their devoutly Christian classmate Hedvig to teach them guitar. This spurs debates about the ethics of punk, DIY haircuts, and a great scene in which Hedvig outplays the youth center organizers who try to mansplain the guitar to her. (Added bonus: apparently the youth center guys are played by two real Swedish punk musicians from the 80s.) Best of all, unlike just about every other film where outsiders triumph by winning the approval of their peers, Bobo and Klara and Hedvig are all nothing but themselves from the movie’s beginning to the end, peers be damned. Sweden. Pre-teen ansgst. A song called “Hate the Sport!.” What more could you ask for?

Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): Duke Ellington called Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson “the Maharaja of the keyboard” and in his more than sixty-year long career, the Maharaja played in duets, trios and quartets with everyone from Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie. At six feet three inches tall, with eight Grammy Awards and a style that is a little bit swing music, a little bit blues and lots of groove, when he sat down at the piano, people listened. Lately, it’s been hard to choose between his “Boogie Blues Etude” and “Waltz for Debbie.” (And then there’s his fantastic “Chicago Blues.”)  And as June comes on with warmer nights, longer evenings and weekend picnics, you might want to pour a little glass of something chilled and sweet and add the Maharaja’s “Summer Samba” to your list of favorite tunes.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): Fun month! My favorite comic book, Saga, came back from a seasonal hiatus. I finally saw the new X-Men and Godzilla movies. I binged on the first season of Arrow and wished, for just one awesome moment, that Enrique Iglesias had played Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones. Yet the most fun I had this month was catching the last half of Orson Welles’ F for Fake last night on TV. I hadn’t seen it in years, but I immediately fell back into the fun of watching fat old Orson’s bleary bloviating at a hippie picnic or a thousand-course dinner; Clifford Irving‘s insanely cagey one-man dance around the Hughes hoax; and Elmyr de Hory’s charming, nonsensical defense/denial of his habit of art forgery: “I don’t feel bad for Modigliani . . . I feel good for me.” It’s funny to watch these self-obsessed fraudsters congratulate themselves on deceiving one another, but the real thrill is just in trying to figure out what the hell Orson Welles is doing with this movie. Is it a film essay about deception, or maybe just a portrait of that peculiar glint in the eye of a master trickster? It’s the last rite for Orson Welles’ induction to the canon of great tricksters: Loki, Hermes, Eshu, Coyote, Orson Welles.

Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): The Northwest Film Center is currently showcasing the wonderful films of French auteur Leos Carax, whose five features represent some of the most memorable and daring filmmaking of the last thirty years. Boy Meets Girl, his debut (and a film I had previously not seen), could have easily been titled Boy Meets Godard, so strong are the marks of its influences. Like so many of those New Wave films, you can’t help but get caught up in the monumental love for cinema that Carax displays. I mean, how do you watch a scene like this and not wish you could step into the frame and walk the same streets as Denis Lavant?

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Flash Fridays

On the terrace of the Presidential Palace you lay glued to the scope for less than an hour before you have to take the shot. Tourist or terrorist: It was always going to be your call. You are applauded for taking the shot and saving the nation, although you are not allowed to rise off your elbows, the knobs of which have begun to ache. A hand—the same hand that occasionally guides a straw into your mouth—reaches around to pin a medal on your lapel. You keep watch for another twenty-five years, your elbows flattening into steady stands, when the same terrorist, or maybe the terrorist’s son, arrives with a bouquet of flowers and drops it on the site of the original killing.

You take the shot again and watch the paramedics carry off the body before the media can get there. They give your sniper scope another thumbs-up sign; you have done well, as a prompt second medal proves.

You begin to realize that you are profiling the visitors to the Presidential Palace on the crudest criteria: skin tone, nose size, turban or no turban, beard or no beard, a certain innate glower to the eyes. Every twenty-five years, you take another shot at a nearly identical looking man, never quite wiping out his recalcitrant line. It is as though his terrorist descendants are drawn to memorialize one ancient wrong on the birth of a male child every quarter of a century. You have over a dozen medals on your lapel; thanks to you, the nation is sure to last a long time. Still, you wonder whether you identified that first terrorist correctly; whether that first killshot prompted the descendants to become terrorists and necessitated all the subsequent killshots.

At last, forty medals later, the nation safe for a thousand years, the rifle is extricated from your grasp and you are peeled off your perch. The Secret Service wheels you upright into the Presidential Palace, where you join the rows of other snipers who have protected the President for millennia. A great triumphal chorus blasts from speakers in the four corners of the hall. Your arms, like those of your many predecessors, are frozen in position: one hand curled close, trigger finger pointed almost at your heart; the other flared above your head, cradling the absent barrel, index finger pointed almost at the ceiling. Your jaw is massaged until it lowers. Now you, too, look like a tenor, singing from the heart. You, too, are part of the choir.

Amit Majmudar is a poet and novelist. His latest book of poetry, Reincarnal, won the 2011 Donald Justice Award and he has recently had poems published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Review of Books. In addition, two of Amit’s poems were chosen to appear in the 11th edition of the Norton Introduction to Literature (“Dothead”) and the Best American Poetry 2012 (“The Autobiography of Khwaja Mustasim”). As a novelist, Amit is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Partitions and Abundance (both with Metropolitan).

Copyright © 2014 by Amit Majmudar

Posted in Flash Fridays

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Tin House Reels: Zbigniew Czapla

Zbigniew Czapla created this week’s Tin House Reels feature, This World–a short based on the poem of the same title by Czeslaw Milosz–at the invitation of the Fundacja Pogranicze, as part of a multimedia exhibition at the Museum of Czeslaw Milosz in Krasnogruda. Czapla calls his project “a catastrophic vision and poetic perspective on human life as a set of secrets, accidents, and misunderstandings.”

After graduating with a master’s degree in Graphic Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, Poland, Czapla decided that animation, which had been an early fascination for him, entailed too many cumbersome stages for creation. As such, he switched his focus, working for the next ten years in painting and commercial design.

But in 2010, he tried his hand at animation again as “a test of my ability and to try to redefine my artistic language.” He created Ritual, a film that establishes a vocabulary built through inky paintings. “Ritual” quickly received attention and has since been shown in over 100 film festivals worldwide. For Czapla, “it was a signal that I should concentrate on animation.”

“Poetry is a difficult subject for animation,” Czapla said. “It should at all costs avoid banality, infantile associations, and overwrought pathos. The text and sound work together around themes, as in jazz improvisation. Topics connect, overlap, and move away from each other in a game of associations.”

“Animated experimental film is a way for me to combine my various fascinations. Painting, music, theater and literature are like pieces of a puzzle, which I try to organize in a new way. If the end result for me is mysterious and unknown, that it is worth doing. The expected effects do not interest me. A lot of the work ends up being unsuccessful, but that always comes with artistic risk.”

Zbigniew Czapla is a screenwriter, director, animator, painter and graphic artist. He graduated from the Graphic Arts Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow and has won prizes at several festivals including KLIK!, Semafor, Tindirindis, and Message to Man. He has received scholarships from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, DAAD, and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to tinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in Poetry, Videos

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The Art of the Sentence: Alistair MacLeod

“The tide was going out when they vanished, leaving nothing but a lantern—perhaps tossed on to the ice by a sinking hand and miraculously landing upright and continuing to glow, or perhaps, set down after its arc, wildly but carefully by a hand, which sought to reach another.” —Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief

Alistair MacLeod, who died in April, wrote just one novel, 1999’s No Great Mischief.  Like his short stories, collected in the US under the title Island, the novel is distinguished by his elegant, humane prose. We’re accustomed to talking about literary pyrotechnics in terms of complicated syntax or elevated diction, but MacLeod’s work is often dazzling in its simplicity, each perfectly composed sentence buttressing the next, landing in rhythm as musical as the Gaelic songs his characters sing.

This sentence describes the deaths of three people who drown one evening while walking across inadequate ice to their lighthouse home. The lanterns they carry on their journey are visible from shore, so that the accident is witnessed by their family and, indeed, an entire community that knows them.  Two lanterns go dark, and a third remains lit, a ghostly, mysterious beacon.  The community waits with held breath as rescue parties set forth, not knowing what they’ll find. In this sentence, the rolling, swaybacked sequence of clauses bridged by alternately dark and hopeful words—perhaps; sinking; miraculously landing; perhaps; wildly; carefully–imitates the swinging of the lantern at the moment the ice breaks as well as the emotions of the family as they watch, wavering between optimism and the early, shattering intimations of grief.

In MacLeod’s work, the landscape of Cape Breton exerts a constant, unflinching force. While describing its specific beauty he is never sentimental about its hazards or its hardships. It’s not a backdrop to human life but the condition of it. So the sentence starts with the ongoing, ineluctable action of the water—“the tide was going out.” And it ends with a single, finite human gesture—the hand reaching out for another—which is typical of the way his characters live and work and survive together. His people are often beleaguered, but they are never alone.

Tellingly, the sentence also describes with shivering precision an event that the book’s own first person narrator has not seen. The narrator’s parents and brother die when he is a child; too young to have witnessed or comprehended it, he learns about it from his other brothers and the grandparents who raise him. But they have told him the story so vividly that he can describe it as if he were there.

The narrator is a figure whose position appears over and over in MacLeod’s stories—the child who (like MacLeod himself, who left a family of miners and fishermen to become a university professor) escapes the harsh conditions of home. He is always exploring the complicated privilege and burden of being the one who survived, the one who went away. And he captures the way that landscape continues to dominate the lives of its characters even after they leave—off to be university professors or doctors or lawyers, off to the city, off to the shifting present—like a lantern that keeps shining after the person holding it is gone.

I first read No Great Mischief while I was in graduate school in Texas, amid a landscape about as different from Cape Breton as you can find, and I felt transported—somehow deeply homesick for a kind of life I myself had never led. The experience was emotional, intense, though not maudlin. As an expatriate Canadian, I’m often guilty of romanticizing my home, but MacLeod’s work doesn’t encourage that; though it often looks to the past, addressing love and loss, its gentle, steely tone is a curative for nostalgia.

What I learned from MacLeod, in reading both No Great Mischief and his stories, is how a writer makes a territory his own, and how endlessly he can plumb it. Macleod’s work never sought variety. Over and over again in his stories, the same characters appear—the bookish child, the doomed or alcoholic brother, the grizzled father, the stern, strong mother or grandmother. Relatives who are lost but remembered. They are clan attributes that recur across generations, like red hair. Taken together, his work resembles a genealogical ancestry, a branching, connected family tree.  Story after story, sentence after sentence, the family fractures and reassembles itself into recombinant DNA, the particular gene sequence MacLeod both inherited and made his own.

Alix Ohlin‘s novel Inside was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Prize. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and many other places.

Posted in Art of the Sentence

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Distracted in Portland II

One collected hermit crab racing shells. Another, napkins from restaurants. Paintbrushes, bottle caps, swizzle sticks, twigs gnawed by beavers, single socks left in dryers, objects secreted in pianos.  A woman named Nova collected nail clippings, bits of herself, stacked like brittle moons in tiny jars.


Notes found in libraries.

Will you go on a date with me? YES or NO.

New teacher’s resolution:

1. ignore Andrew  

2. work harder  


It was typical of Portland to find me the Faux Museum, with its current exhibit “Collections and Anomalies,” just when I was being most distracted by collecting. I don’t collect. Not really. I buy art when I can, but calling it a collection feels obnoxious. And that cabinet I have full of bones and skulls and nests, dead birds and dead snakes, that’s not really a collection, at least not yet. Last week it was someone else’s collection I was obsessed with, my friend Billy Jamieson’s. The auction catalogs—“William (Billy) Jamieson Collection”—arrived in the mail for me at Tin House and next thing you know I was spending hours scouring the database of CITES, the UN convention regulating international trade in endangered species, and zooming in on Billy’s butterflies to see if that white one with the red dots really was a Parnassian Apollo, because the auction was happening in Canada, and if I won a lot containing any endangered butterflies, like the Parnassian Apollo, and tried to bring it across the U.S. border—never mind that all the butterflies, Parnassian and otherwise, were collected and mounted on boards nearly two centuries ago—I would languish for decades in a dank Canadian prison.

Okay, probably not, but a hefty fine was possible. Billy once paid one when he tried to sell an endangered curlew on eBay. Then there were the Nisga’a mummies that he had to return to the tribe. They were sitting-up mummies, not lying down, so he seat-belted them in the backseat of his yellow Austin-Healey convertible and drove them to their native home in Western Canada. That was before he bought the electric chair from the Auburn Prison that had supposedly been saved from a fire in 1929 and kept hidden for all these years, but after he acquired the Victorian aquarium made from the rear of a hearse that was so haunted it freaked out his former girlfriend when she housesat . . .

I can’t separate Billy’s collection from Billy and the stories he told about it. Billy died three years ago, suddenly, shockingly, which is why his collection is being auctioned off. That, to me, is tragic, and evocative in its tragedy, and thus I was mooning over the whole idea of collecting when fate introduced me to the Faux Museum where I found other collector-less collections.

Can you feel me right now?

It sucks the happiness out of people.

Reasons why you should get the book:

1. it is a great book


“You want to hold a shrunken head?” Billy asked the first time I met him. He thrust one towards me. “This guy’s a white guy! So this head is extra valuable.”

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Posted in Essays

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What We’re Reading


Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Only Roz Chast could get me to read about aging, death, and taking care of failing parents. Her new memoir, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, illustrated in her usual snarky style, is not exactly what I can describe as a fun read, but it’s about as honest and sympathetic an account of dealing with her parents’ incredibly difficult last years as one could wish for. Chast is serious in the right places here but also finds the best comic material in inherently dark territory, particularly in her portrayal of her mom and dad’s sweet and unhealthy codependency, the lucid dreaming of the senile, and the absurdities of Senior Living in a Place.

Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): Mention you are from Colombia to your average U.S. citizen and you are bound to get some careless joke about cocaine thrown your way.  A wink about the sugar you put in your coffee; a smirk about a corbata colombiana. As I am about to marry a beautiful woman from Medellín, I can both attest to how ignorant these remarks can be and how they annoy to the bone. I thought a lot about those jokes as I read The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, a novel that is set in post-Escobar Bogotá but is haunted by that mad king’s rein. Those looking for the warm hues of Marquez’s coastal Colombia will be surprised to find themselves in the muted streets of the capital, where much of the savagery of the drug traffickers took place. Rather than give a blow-by-blow history of all that transpired, Vasquez allows the mistrust and bitterness of a group of people who have lived through the siege to stand in for the collective scars of a nation. The plot follows the “ever present ghost” of a victim of the drug wars, as his friend, who witnessed his assassination, seeks answers as to why he was killed. The resulting search touches on the many ways Colombians were affected by the violence, summed up beautifully by Vasquez early in the novel: “There is a sound that I cannot or have never been able to identify: a sound that’s not human or is more than human, the sound of lives being extinguished…the sound of things falling from on high…that is forever suspended in my memory, hanging in it like a towel on a hook.” Literature often humanizes events that otherwise come to us as clichés, bringing to the surface what otherwise might stay submerged under the weight of history and the way it has been reported to us. I can’t imagine anyone who reads this novel ever making a joke about Colombia’s white lines again.

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): I’ve spent the month slowly rereading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.1 House of Leaves is an academic study on The Navidson Record, a documentary film about a family that moves into a new home, only to discover a number of unsettling spatial discrepancies.3 House of Leaves is a portrait of Zapanò, a reclusive, blind man and the author of an academic study about a documentary film he may or may not have fabricated. House of Leaves is a novel about Johnny Truant, editor of Zampanò’s papers, who is driven mad by the specter of the house. It is a horror novel. It is a love story.4

1 See Appendix A for the transcript between myself and Mr. Ross, regarding sophomore efforts by authors of strange debut novels.2

2 Mr. Vala did not provide us with these records.—ed.

3 Danielewski, Mark Z. Chapter IV. House of Leaves. New York: Random House, 2000. (pp. 24). Print.

4 It also has a lot of footnotes.5

5 And nested footnotes, which I am unreasonably excited by.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): This week, intimidated by the stack of unread books at my bedside (fine: spilling onto my bed), I bummed around the internet, stocking a hypothetical anthology of online fiction. I was taken by Daniel Kowalski’s post-apocalyptic-O-Henry story “Our Meat” in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading series, in which Kowalski cutely subverts the common trope of the mysterious cataclysmic event by calling it “The Thing That Happened.” Another favorite was a Kevin Clouther story from his collection We Were Flying to Chicago, on Black Balloon’s blog, The Airship. The story, “On the Highway Near Fairfield, Connecticut,” is a strange, moving (and stopping) story that superimposes one moment over another unexpectedly. It’s hard to explain, even to myself, but that it can be so inexplicable and stay so grounded in the mundane is part of its odd charm.

Posted in Desiderata

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Cat Lover

Flash Fridays

Her profile said she LOVED CATS and HATED MEAN PEOPLE, but she looked so sexy in her profile photos. She looked peachy and ripe, not big-featured or vulgar. Maybe it was the cats in the photos that kept her from looking too slutty. Or maybe it was the cats in the photos that made her look so sexy. I didn’t know what we’d talk about. I’m more of a dog person, really, but I had changed my profile before messaging her to say that I was a veterinarian specializing in Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Cat AIDS. It’s serious. Google it.

An hour after the time we’d agreed to meet, I ordered a fourth beer and smiled like well-here-we-are at the damp-faced, bleach-blond bartender. She told me I owed her an impossible amount of money, and just as I was obligingly slapping my dollars onto the sloppy surface of the bar, my little pussycat rubbed up against my leg.

The smell of sugary perfume wafting up from her cleavage cut through the sour stench of beer-rotted wood. We said “You must be…” at the same time, and she presented the back of her hand to be kissed like a princess. At that point I felt confident that this date would be very easy.

Two cherry choco-tinis later, Lucy was draping herself all over me, as loose-limbed as a leaky blow-up doll at the ragged end of a bachelor party. I was drunk enough to grin and raise my eyebrows at her charming clumsiness and apologies: “Woops, there goes my hand in your lap again.” My bladder was threatening to explode, but I didn’t want to leave her leaning against the sticky bar unattended. There were many other men in the bar who’d been prowling and glaring, licking their drooping chops, wolf-like.

I paid our tab and ushered her out. She purred her encouragement, and looked up at me with what could be called bedroom eyes if the bed was a waterbed filled with vodka and cherry choco-tini mix. Her lips were unruly, and I couldn’t think of what to say next so I kissed her, right there on the street. She pulled away with a wobble and slurred at me with her face close to mine, her syrupy breath billowing into my nose and mouth. I threw my arm up for a cab and when we tumbled into the back seat, she blurted her address like it was one long word. She crept her fingers up my thigh and into the crotch of my jeans. I still hadn’t found my way to a bathroom, and the urgency was turning into pain, but I wasn’t complaining. She was murmuring dirtily into my ear. I wasn’t really listening, just enjoying the heat of her mouth near my face. At one point I thought I heard her say something about tools from an online vet supplier, but I imagined she meant it in a kinky context and continued to fantasize about her warm mouth.

At her apartment, she briefly worked on my belt before stopping to mewl out a saccharine coo. She sank onto all-fours on the dusty floor and nuzzled her face into the face of a gray cat. The cat looked up at me and meowed weakly. Lucy introduced me to Rocky, explaining his condition, Cat AIDS. As she pouted down at the cat and up at me, I felt a lame, icy blanket fall over all hope of getting naked with this woman. She looked at me with sudden sobriety and demanded that I operate on her ill pet. She’d prepared for this and, cat in arms, she directed me to the kitchen.

I blinked at the situation in there. It had been transformed from an innocuous place of food preparation to a much less pleasant environment. On a baking sheet lined with a folded paper towel, small steel tools were arranged neatly next to a syringe. I thought I might vomit. Lucy gestured at a pair of clean latex gloves and said she’d sanitized the counter for the operation.

To my credit, I had taken an online course in preparation for the date (in case she came to my place and wanted to see my credentials), but I’d fudged my practicum and my certificate said, at the bottom, in very small print: SURGERY INCOMPLETE. In the kitchen, Lucy got Rocky comfortable on the counter, snapped on her own pair of gloves, and gently emptied the contents of a hypodermic needle into the top of Rocky’s paw. With a single whimper, the animal went limp on the table. I held the shiny sharp instruments above the soft and bloated stomach of her anesthetized cat. A thin skin of sweat slicked over my body, my bladder finally relieved itself of its rotten contents, warmly, down my left leg, and I penetrated the poor beast’s flesh.


Polly Duff Bresnick is the author of the chapbook Old Gus Eats (Publishing Genius, July 2012), which contains stanzas excerpted from her visual translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. Her writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, elimae, The Agriculture Reader, DossierMonkeybicycleThe Offending Adam, and The Fiddleback. She lives in Brooklyn.

Posted in Flash Fridays

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Tin House Reels: Jordan Bruner

As devoted fans of Jordan Bruner’s sensually rich films, Tin House Reels is once again excited to engage with her unique sense of community.

Taking a Eve Ensler poem as its source material, “And Then We Were Jumping” is a warm mediation on justice and the ways we both heal ourselves and those around us. The film tells the story of a daughter who takes on her father’s depression as her own. Ensler and Bruner mine the daughter’s psychology, describing how harmful and disorienting it can be to take responsibility for pain that isn’t yours.

The creative process was a collaboration with the poet and a team of diverse artists.

“Eve Ensler sent me her poem and we began bouncing ideas back and forth,” Jordan told us. “I made rough storyboards and sent image references, and then we met up and I got further clarification of her intent. My friend Nelly Kate began experimenting with music around that time as well. I made another round of storyboards and an animatic with really rough sound, and from there began designing style frames. Animator extraordinaire Greg Lytle started animating as I was continuing to make the style frames, and my brother Barry Bruner, an amazing illustrator in his own right, assisted Greg with the animation and mapped out the landscape for the end scene. Once all the frames were completed, more animators came in to help out and I began compositing the project in After Effects. We animated the entire project in Photoshop and After Effects.”

The sense of community that went into making the project is illuminated in the final frames of the film. The closeness that initially seemed capable of destroying the father and daughter takes them to a rich, humane recognition. Bruner and her team come by the emotions in the film honestly, allowing the audience to jump along with the characters on screen.

The short film and the poem were created as part of the One Billion Rising For Justice campaign, which demands for an end to violence against women and girls.

The video was a Vimeo Satff Pick and has been screened at Pictoplasma, Anima Festival in Brussels, and will play at Fest Anca in Slovakia in June.

Jordan Bruner is an animation director living in Brooklyn, NY. Jordan has worked with clients including Linda McCartney Foods, Friskies, and Etsy, collaborated with bands ranging from the Mountain Goats to Paramore, and shown her short films in festivals all around the world. In amongst creating 2D and Stop Frame animations, Jordan finds time to paint, collect hologram paintings, and be part of a bowling team. She wishes she had a mascot, so please get in contact if you’d like to apply for the position.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to tinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in Poetry, Videos

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Essay on Urban Homesteading, a Poem

As the weather grows warm and we grow restless, we’re reminded of Allison Titus’ vital, burning poem from Issue 57, The Wild Issue.



The dumb hours blunt the after

noon with bottle neck


with clover & weeds

almost meadowed


& black widows & the mint.

There are so many ways


to be tired. All summer list

& ungather, place strategic


plywood over yielding

planks. The beginning


a swelter now settled :

now not new :


We have our pick of bars

& a new bullet


ratio : a little less day-to-day

interruption : a little less


metal : barrel : slate : syringe.

Les watch-how-the-dark



We settle in,


accommodate the history

of what is left


to us, blue marl & viaduct,

cold storage units


turned into lofts; sirens

& blackouts;


a rampage of ten-year-old boys

throwing rocks.


Allison Titus is the author of the book Sum of Every Lost Ship. Her poems have been published in A Public Space, Black Warrior Review, and Gulf Coast. She lives in Richmond, VA.


Posted in From The Vault, Poetry

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On the Shelves of Memory and in the Temples of the Wardrobe

Playing tourist to a city’s energy, a city not your own, is akin to throwing open your wardrobe and allowing the city to dress you in unexpected and untamed ways. You are at the mercy of its interruptions. They break into your train of thought and step, redirect your attention, throw garnish on and rip holes into notions you assumed had been perfectly zipped up. It’s—hopefully—what we readily sign up for when stepping onto a plane or train or placing ourselves behind the wheel. We are asking to be suspended in a place and time both our own and not our own, in a sort of episodic rendering anew of ideas about the self and that self’s little world. Every trip should result in new perspective, punctuated by new design, which gives us new form.

I believe there is a layer of New York that persists “on the shelves of memory and in the temples of the wardrobe.” When Gaston Bachelard quotes Charles Péguy he’s doing so not as a description of New York, but as part of a larger conversation about the difference between image and metaphor, and also as part of a conversation on furniture—the wardrobe, the box, the casket—as images of secrecy and the self. But I like to think it is an apt description of Madison Avenue, on a weekday, during the lunch hour.

New York. I am in its tides for ten days, playing tourist to energy not accessible at home, which is Portland, Oregon. From a visitor’s perspective, skimming the surface on one of New York’s million currents, at once threatening and beckoning to sweep the individual away, there is little duel between the two. They relax into each other and course alongside their variants, a rushing spectrum solidifying into those bastions of the frock: Bergdorf’s and American Two Step and Century 21 and Opening Ceremony and A Détacher (to be detached). A sign, COFFEESHOP, The Viand: A long wall of two-person booths, a cup to go for the shopgirls at Barney’s in black and for a fur coat and for a hard hat and for a suit. I wear my Picasso rain jacket with and without an umbrella, find a star spangled Maiyet on a headless mannequin and slip into Charlotte Olympia’s cat-footed world, searching for some version of a lion. Top foot. I step onto a survival carousel and match heartbeats with Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, Devoe St.

“We submit to louche textiles. We feel disgust, timidity, and glee. It proceeds by dissociation and division. We observe the simultaneous proliferation and cancellation of origins. We adapt to a random texture, and this adaptation becomes a material movement. We try it for fit. The fibre is stimulating. We’re wearing a metaphor, lightly emanating a stranger’s scent.” – Lisa Robertson, ‘The Value Village Lyric’

You don’t want to spend your money on impotence, on immobility. After Bergdorf’s, I walk out into the mid-day gleam, an in-between building shine reflecting from the glass box entry to Apple and the golden statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman saluting a carnival of traffic, shop windows reflect light back in an upward reaching angle and throw all the shadows into relief. Our faces are, for a moment, masks. There ahead is the Strand’s mobile bookshop, as unassuming as if situated along the Seine. Looking down, it has a backdrop of cobbles and taxis and sale tickets. They are yellow and garish, the tickets, selling, yet all the titles look appealing and I have an overwhelming urge to buy one, a book, an affordable alternative to Bergdorf’s shoe department that will also function as a light lunch. Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. I imagine my trip as an extended lunch break and carry the pocket edition like a wrapped sandwich from the Automat to a sunny boulder in Central Park.

There are books we read that, because of their verse or their prose, the way their words associatively cascade around the page, dress us, swaddle us in their universe. You must enter them with your entire body, or allow your entire body to read instead of just your mind, in order to access the certain cadence with which the words are presented. I’d call this an act of dressing, but then one could use the term “dressing” for almost any act of learning or reading or viewing. We are dressing our psyche and building a closet for our personality, reflected on our bookshelves and mantelpieces, our nightstands and underneath our beds and even in our refrigerators.

I read a handful of O’Hara poems. He cooks me a multi-course lunch in Central Park and I read him while he’s at it: heel toeing up and down Madison Avenue, putting on his clothes and trying to come back into himself and movie theaters and two charms in a pocket on a lunch hour. O’Hara offering up how to be the most well and the most unwell on a lunchtime diner plate, I read it’s frayed pages.   Then, I look up and continue reading. I read the park, the streets, the skyline. I read the people. I read the style of their hair and the height of their shoe. I read their briefcase and their Celine bags. I read their unassuming jackets and their running gear. I read where they have been and where they are going.

When the desire for a quieter parade overtakes, I take to the Met and the Neue. On my way, a girl emerges, up from the subway staircase. Tall, thin, leggings setting off her skinny legs and Givenchy curb chain ankle boots, the thick gold chain at the vamp, sturdy shoes still pristine and expensive despite the ageing of garments a city lifestyle demands. Her costume elevates her small frame above the gritty sidewalk. Some people dress as if they have a buffer between their garments and the hustle of the subway, the sidewalk. Their appearance, cool detachment, untroubled by any shock of society or weather, persists. My eye lands on these people, the few islands in a perpetual crowd, sliding cool and slick as silk between shoulders and backpacks. Soon they are behind me or too far in front to follow their easy choreography. But in the Met, the islands are framed and under glass. Captured, contained, on display. Stationary. We move to them, through them. We pause.

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Posted in Essays

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Distracted in Portland

One of the advantages of packing up and relocating for three months to a town where you know no one and are freed from the quotidian banalities that clutter up life—dental appointments, exterminator visits, relationships—is that you have tons of time to work, yet can still indulge in those obsessive distractions from work that you rigorously police (mostly) in your real life.

This week I have been spending too much time writing uncharitable letters to the American Meteorological Society.

It started because, on my way to Portland, I stopped off in Boulder, Colorado, to visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally-funded research center. NCAR occupies a brutalist I.M. Pei building perched on a mesa between downtown Boulder and the front range and they have sweet stuff, like a miniature tornado, but I was there to visit the archives. I was hunting down some interviews done there in the eighties and nineties with old-timer meteorologists. Many were conducted under the aegis of the AMS, who held copyright, and one of them required permission of the AMS president in order to read it.

So I requested permission. I didn’t expect any trouble.

This was, I hope, my last archival trip for the book I am writing about Kurt Vonnegut and his older brother Bernard. Bernard was a chemist who got seduced by meteorology in the 1940s and ended up inventing the most commonly used method of cloudseeding—the chemical seeding of clouds to induce them to rain. Bernard was working for G.E. at the time, and so, too, was Kurt, writing press releases and corny PR copy while secretly trying to write fiction. I had been to a multitude of archives researching this book: the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and archives at Princeton, MIT, Penn, U Albany, and Indiana University at Bloomington. I have filed FOIA requests with the FBI and tracked down family members and associates, in one case turning up unannounced to a weekly luncheon of cloud physicists at an Albany diner called Grandma’s. I didn’t expect it to be the weathermen who would give me grief.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Recently, I wrote a magazine piece for OnEarth on the use of cloudseeding today. The practice is currently used in ten Western states and has been for a long time—California’s water and hydropower utilities have been cloudseeding the Sierra Nevada since the early 1950s. For some reason, this continues to surprise people. At cocktail parties, when I tell people I am working on the history of weather modification, they often say, “Oh. But it’s not real. Right?” The only people who seem to believe that weather modification is real are conspiracy theorists convinced that the government is conducting secret weather wars and spraying us with “chemtrails” to make us docile and dumb. As if going to such lengths were necessary when there’s YouTube around.

Such folks have a way of making trouble for the weather modifiers and their clients: water districts, agricultural interests, and hydropower-makers. So, naturally, there’s a level of paranoia among the folks whose job is to try to enhance precipitation. When I was working on the OnEarth story, one of my sources, a private weather modifier, freaked out when the piece was going to press and started insisting we couldn’t quote things he had said at the annual meeting of the Weather Modification Association, where I had stood up and introduced myself as a journalist. I explained that it didn’t work that way, but I did take his name out of the story. Which was his loss, really, since what he had said made him sound effective and would have probably gotten him new clients in need of rain.

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Posted in Essays

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Your Weekly Forecast: Don DeLillo

“There’s always a period of curious fear between the first sweet-smelling breeze and the time when the rain comes cracking down.”—Don DeLillo

Posted in General

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What We’re Reading



Rebekah Bergman (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): After reading (and becoming enamored with) Elena Ferrante’s novel The Days of Abandonment earlier this year, I started the first of her three “Neapolitan Novels,” My Brilliant Friend. The series follows two girls from Naples through childhood and into adulthood as their friendship and identities are challenged, stifled, and nourished by familial and societal expectations. Ferrante is an elusive figure. Though she (he?) has 9 novels to her name, the Italian author writes under a pseudonym and refuses to make public appearance. This, I think, serves her immensely. She holds nothing back from her portrayal of gender and culture and her writing is able to truly speak for itself. My Brilliant Friend is a deeply intimate portrayal—not only of Lila and Elena, but of their families, their city, and the changing world of the 1950s. It lacks the intense, psychological drama of the scorned lover in Days of Abandonment, but its power is more subtle and therefore, I expect, more sustainable over the course of the two subsequent books. I will soon find out if this is true. When I finished My Brilliant Friend, I bought the second novel in the series immediately.

Sophia Archibald (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I just started You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem, and I can already tell it’s gonna be a good one. Even when he is not writing about fantastical worlds or occurrences, Lethem always has an element of magic in his words. This book exposes the magic and paradoxes of love, with music as its core. An unnamed band ties most of the main characters together, two of whom recently broke up but are still playing nice. Lucinda, one half of this former duo, develops an odd relationship with a regular voice on The Complaint Line, where she works answering phone calls. I have barely scratched the surface, but the characters, dialogue, and even exposition are already rich and captivating. I can’t wait to delve deeper.

Molly Dickinson (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): In Cadaver, Speak Marianne Boruch has a distinct way of capturing a preoccupation with the past—not just a personal past but the past, the distant Roman past, the artistic past, the spiritual past—while rooting it in what is in some ways one of the most uniquely present objects: the physical, living, or recently living, body. She conceives of the body as more than a physical casing to be inspected in an anatomy class. It is a vessel for self-reflection and wisdom; it is a source of meditation and truth. I was drawn to Boruch’s collection because of my own attachments to the body, in all its gruesome details, and I stuck around for her ability to call our attention to the unnoticeable ways we build intimacy with the world around us. Cadaver, Speak is both a book that connects us to our surroundings and a wonderful source of thoughtful isolation and meditation.

Miles Jochem (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): In a throwback to my freshman humanities class at college, I have been reading The Iliad (tr. Richmond Lattimore). It’s amazing how well the story of the strong-greaved Achaians, swift-footed Achilleus, and Hektor, breaker of horses holds up by modern standards (and I love me some Homeric epithets!). Sure, there are dry moments. All but the most stalwart classicist will be bored to tears by the catalogue of ships. But there’s more than enough excitement to counterbalance the mustier of the epic conventions. Lust-driven, jealous gods fighting over arrogant, adulterous kings, more epic battle scenes than all the Die Hard movies combined, and the downright soap opera that plays out between angry Achilleus and proud Agamemnon over a pilfered girlfriend all combine to ensure the millennia-enduring popularity of Homer’s great poem.

Allyson Paty (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): I’ve never read anything quite like Mei-Mei Berrsenbrugge’s Hello, the Roses. The poems have an essayistic quality in their deliberate, attentive movement. However, unlike many discursive modes, Berrsenbrugge’s poems don’t seem preoccupied with fixing an idea in language; rather, language provides a medium for the material world to open out into sensation, emotion, and thought. Her images evoking the experience of sight as crisply as they evoke their referents.

Take this passage from “Pure Immanence”:

It makes of my experience a critique of innateness, the way a pink plastic chair, a mannequin in a pink bunny suit holding a painting of sunset accretes virtual rouge defining a space that doesn’t refer to objects or belong to me.

I could mistake it for something fractal, shattered; it’s the opposite of that.

No matter how close to two sensations, passing from one to another pink is the slice through.

Innateness spreads like sunset across mountains.

I connect with sensation now as to pink petals forming toward me, those who love me in another life responding to me

There’s no time, so at sunset love from others can look like one rose.

Posted in Desiderata

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Gyrus and Sulcus

Flash Fridays

A head on collision, license plates smudging together. He was smiling before the steering wheel warped his jaw, before the hubcap spun through the windshield and sliced through his neck, before his head launched out of the sun roof.

A car accident in evening traffic. A mosaic in the street, unfolded metal and rubber and skin. His head plopped on the white line and rolled over the curb onto the crippled yellow grass. The stalks brushed against his frosted lips, heavy lidded eyes, pimples, scars from larger pimples, brown hair hiding his ears and reaching past his eyebrows. A jagged bit of spinal cord hung from his neck like an icicle.

Cars slowed down then sped up. Sirens—police, ambulance—whirled through the thick August air. There was writing on the road. Low bridge no trucks. No trucks low bridge. The skin on the top of his head started to tent.

Then his whole head began to quiver. A serrated pincer broke through the skull. A second one followed, clenching and unclenching. The rest of the skull crumbled apart and the brain, clean and intact and supported on nine spotted orange crab legs, scuttled away from the wreckage.

It made it under the guardrail, down the slope into the woods, as the ambulance arrived. It moved in quick and choppy stretches from brush to tree to bush. It dipped under exposed roots and snipped leaves out of it way and left forked prints and constantly made a sound somewhere between a slurp and gargle.

A hawk cried crossing the sun. The black chipped vertebrae of a mountain reared above the gnarled trees. Some of the trunks had growths shaped like eyes and noses and lips. The brain found a shallow stream and carefully climbed down the bank. It stretched over the edge and peered at its reflection, the flaky gray grooves and ridges. Slowly it extended its leg, tested the water with a quick prick, watched the ripples extend. Then it dived in and swam doggy style to the other side and continued through the forest. Less then an hour later, when the sun disappeared behind the mountain, it laid down beside a pale ridged mushroom and fell asleep staring at the stars.

And dreamed about fireballs hanging from traffic lights, dumpsters full of balloons, rock planets with a belt of bloody molars, birds hatching out of moons, gas planets on the same orbit with the bigger one devouring the smaller like a greater than sign, the breasts of an eleventh grade calculus teacher. The flashes of a mother with make up tattooed on her face and a father wrapped in a haze and a brick house with a hula hoop around the chimney.

It woke up gasping in the hot damp morning and slinked through the bushes, towards the shade of the mountain, looking for berries or nuts or worms. Climbing a log it froze on top of the mossy bark. There was a deer sniffing the ground on the other side. Both creatures studied each other. One with eyes like marbles, the other with pincers raised and swaying.

The brain moved first leaping down and charging at the closest hoof. The deer jumped up and stomped down denting the brain but it flashed its pincer and tore into the belly, revealing pink meat, and smudges of white, incandescent white. The deer buckled and collapsed. The brain dug further into the hole it created and did not stop until it chipped the spine. The hoof shivered for a moment. The eyes bulged. The top of the head began to tent.


Anthony Cordello got a MFA from Fairfield University. He does not want to be a teacher but he will probably end up teaching.

Posted in Flash Fridays

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Tin House Reels: Valeriy Kozhin

This week, Tin House Reels is pleased to share The Gardener’s Dream by director and animator Valeriy Kozhin. Kozhin’s film transforms Lewis Carroll’s poem The Mad Gardener’s Song” into a surrealist adventure that maintains the spirit of the poet’s work and incorporates a wildness that is all Kozhin’s.

The film conveys an abstracted conceit of a logic game. Using paper cut-outs and puppets, porcelain dolls, and minuscule objects, Kozhin draws on images of childhood. Using a color palate rich in natural pigments, his work also feels like more classic animation–a mixture of Marc Davis era Disney and Jan Svankmajer, one of Valeriy’s favorite filmmakers.

“I see a new world with my eyes when I am inside a film,” Kozhin said. “I think that cinema is a young art. We have the great opportunity to make more than we can imagine in animation.”

That imagination, which seems to be equally enamored with the romantic and grotesque, has created an alluring lullaby for those boys and girls who still read under the covers after the lights have been turned off.

The film was made in two versions–one in Russian and one in English–with financial support from the Russian Federation Ministry of Culture.

Moscow-born Valeriy Kozhin grew up wanting to be a cartoonist. After graduating from the Moscow Academic Art Lyceum, he joined the VGIK Film Institute in the artistic animation department. He currently lives and works in Moscow.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to tinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in Poetry, Videos

Comments: 1