The Village Voice is ending its weekly print edition. End of a journalism era in New York City.— Michael M. Grynbaum (@grynbaum) August 22, 2017
We are rapidly hurtling into a time in which young writers will reflect with awe on the fact that there were thousands of free alternative newsweeklies from coast to coast that employed writers — many on a full-time basis — to write about the life of the city.
And get a load of this bullshit:
Breaking: The Village Voice is ending its weekly print edition. pic.twitter.com/ATbXrP5qYh— Ben Mullin (@BenMullin) August 22, 2017
Last night I became a flock of birds on the eve of their descent.
Last night I was a murder of crows.
To be a murder of crows is to not know
if you are magic or dreaming,
a flask of ring tones or a canvas of teachers
a worship of poets or a cashbox of planets.
I did not know body or the hungering scratch for permission.
I was at once a marriage of galaxies, a shining glory of mistakes,
a lumbering storm of shoelaces,
and a cinema of head turns.
I walked like a torso of regrets heaving a crease of love letters,
written in blue, flowing downstream.
I chose to live as a river of ripped journal pages,
a sprain of tears, spilling
into a spectacle of wringing hands.
In the pitch, I became
a dictionary of guitars, strings taut and out of tune
I had forgotten what a migration of fingertips
feels like on the landscape of the skin,
I had forgotten I am not the strings
but the articulation of sound when they are played,
how forcefully we pour out of our bodies to be formless,
how even in a foreign wrapping,
our bodies break
free of the stilled silence.
We're immensely grateful to this week's sponsor, Howard Robertson, for sharing an excerpt from his recent novel Love in the Cretaceous — which turns everything you learned from Jurassic Park on its head. In Robertson's Oregon, one hundred years from now, dinosaurs roam the earth, while humans are busy cutting off their own exit. Robertson, a notable local poet and fiction writer, throws his readers into the soup with love, loss, and extinction (and a very sinister cameo); the thrills in this one are metaphysical as well as primordial, as you'll see when you dip in.
Sponsors like Howard W. Robertson make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.
Now that former White House senior advisor Steve Bannon is back in charge of hyperconservative news outlet Breitbart, it's vitally important to note that Amazon is one of the last remaining mainstream advertisers on Breitbart.
.@amazon Please stop advertising on Breitbart— Andy Richter (@AndyRichter) August 19, 2017
The organization Sleeping Giants has been on a crusade to convince Amazon to stop advertising on Breitbart. They responded to comedian Andy Richter's tweet above with an update on their crusade:
Think about that. More than 2,500 advertisers have realized that posting on Breitbart is bad for business. They've made the moral decision to stop advertising there. Amazon, after months of consumer advocacy from Sleeping Giants, still advertises on the site.
What will it take for Amazon to stop giving Steve Bannon money? What if you sent them an email? What if you canceled your Amazon account and told them that you decided that you could no longer be complicit in advancing a white supremacist agenda? Maybe your voice will be the one that tips Amazon over onto the right side of history.
It's vital to stop Steve Bannon from advancing his white supremacist agenda. Amazon is one of the last major mainstream funders of that agenda. They must stop advertising on Breitbart.
Last week, the founders of the website Comics Mix launched a Kickstarter for an anthology titled MINE!: A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. The anthology is star-studded, featuring writers like Neil Gaiman and Gerard Way and artists including Becky Cloonan and Jamaica Dyer. The project must reach $50,000 by September 15th to be published, though it’s already off to a great start. We talked with Seattle-area cartooning/inking/writing powerhouse Jen Vaughn about how she got involved with the project and why she’s such a passionate Planned Parenthood advocate.
Could you explain in your own words what Mine! is?
It’s a comics anthology featuring some of the best and brightest and then me. These stories turn their focus on a woman's right to her own body, the decisions she makes with it and the continuing struggle for women, especially women of color, to hold their agency. The title is derived from that ideology — it's MINE, so keep your fucking hands off it.
There are a lot of big names in this anthology. Are there any creators you're especially excited to share a pair of covers with?
Gabby Rivera, of Juliet Takes a Breath and America (the comic); Cecil Castelucci who writes Shade the Changing Girl — I just met her, she's fantastic. Tee Franklin is another writer who I'm excited about. She Kickstarted her new comic Bingo Love, and I'm ready to put my eyes on that book. Maia Kobabe and I traded comics at San Diego Comicon, they wrote and drew this moving comic on recognizing fascism through memory and books. I'm very ready to see their collaboration for Mine! And of course, Sarah Winifred Searle — I've always admired her work. We were both tabling at MeCAF (Maine Comic Arts Festival) in Portland, Maine back in, oh geez, 2011? It feels like we've been doing a lot of growing and drawing alongside each other, miles away and pages apart, so I'm pumped to be in another book with her.
You're a really busy freelancer. Why did you choose to get involved with this particular project? What does Planned Parenthood mean to you?
It's excellent that my facade of being busy is working! The timing was right when editor and organizer Joe Corallo contacted me, and I've had this story kicking around for awhile. Planned Parenthood has done a lot for me over the last 15 years.
I spent some formative high school and college years in Texas, and it's a very hostile place. There was a student group, VOX/Voices for Choice, I volunteered with at the University of Texas. We basically passed out free condoms, dental dams, taught people how to use them (to undo some of that religious health class BS about it being easier to not use condoms), and how to contact your Senators and Reps about Plan B.
Because we were in Austin, we occasionally went to committee meetings or public forums for healthcare. The reps on the healthcare boards would usually be five “old gray-faced white dudes with two dollar haircuts” and one young Catholic Latinx man. It was infuriating. It IS infuriating. I made a lot of bad college art about sexuality back then.
Also, because my mom's an intense baker, I had access to candy molds so I made LOTS of penis, vagina and birth control pill chocolates with all sales going to our college group and Planned Parenthood. If I didn't know people were racist by then, I certainly did when people only wanted to buy white guy penis chocolates — like anyone likes the taste of white chocolate.
I'm writing and drawing a bit of a fantasy piece so I'm not ruining any plot points by telling you Planned Parenthood was there for me during my abortion. I'd spent a year volunteering with Lillith Fund, a helpline which supported women emotionally and helped come up with ideas to crowdfund their clandestine abortions. It was wild, what could a 20 year old do to help a 35 year old desparate not to have yet another child, but their husband wouldn't use condoms or birth control.
Planned Parenthood has also been there for me every year when I go my engine checked out — so affordable compared to other places — and including this year when terrifyingly, I found a lump in my breast. (I'm fine, for now, though we're all moving closer to death).
Do you think artists have a responsibility to be political citizens? Do you think Trump changed that dynamic for you?
Artists cannot help but be political citizens, although it depends on the type of art, honestly. My idea behind every new project is to try something new — sometimes it’s art-related, sometimes it's writing-related. Part of my new goals, probably since moving to Seattle, have been to help lift up other people's voices, especially women of color — not that I'm monied or famous or in any position of power. This means drawing other people's stories or collaborating, not just owning the entire project, because it's a reflection of our society.
When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, it seems like comics tried to be apolitical. On the one side, you had corporate comics, which didn't stand up for anything, really. And on the alternative side, you had cartoonists like Dan Clowes and Chris Ware who didn't seem to be particularly political. (Of course there were cartoonists like Roberta Gregory who were fearless in portraying abortion as a reality, but even her comics seemed to walk up to a line and then stop, politically speaking.) Is that changing? Are American comics developing a social consciousness? Or do you disagree with my reading?
Hmm. I think there's a difference between gag comics/political comics that emotionally resonate immediately versus a graphic novel that can manipulate character development and create compassion within the reader.
Being political now in comics isn't necessarily writing about politics, but being more inclusive with the dynamics of everyone creating them. It's like editor Joe Hughes bringing in writer Nnedi Okorafor to Vertigo a few years back; it's Gene Luen Yang building an empire with First Second from American Born Chinese to Secret Coders AND encouraging kids to a summer reading program with Reading Without Walls bookmarks (they were VERY realistic in suggesting 3 books since not all kids loved the library as much as say, I did). It's Hope Nicholson creating The Secret Loves of Geek Girls book and the soon-to-be-released follow up at Dark Horse, The Secret Loves of Geeks, that includes all genders and genderqueer people. It's the company Black Mask printing a series written by a trans writer, Magdalene Visaggio, with trans characters, drawn by Mexico-based Eva Cabrera (if you haven't read Kim + Kim by now, just GO — get yourself to the bookstore or library).
But with that being said, the 'slow death' of newspapers, and especially staff cartoonists, has left a gap in the world — one that is being met online by many cartoonists, especially Matt Bors at The Nib, with Nomi Kane, Pia Guerra, Joey Allson Sayers, Maia Kobabe and more. The political cartoons once clipped and taped above the breakroom coffee pot or to the door of the bathroom are now shared via social media. It's amazing how technology changes and we still see the same behaviors. (I just said that with my best Neil deGrasse Tyson voice)
What else are you working on? How can our readers keep up with you?
I'm finishing up some SECRET comics and covers that should be announced soon. But you can still pre-order my other current Kickstarter project, Haunted Tales of Gothic Love, edited by Hope Nicholson. Mel Gillman wrote a delicious queer love story featuring gold miners and a ghost; it's been quite fun to draw and I'm very sure it will haunt readers.
I'm working on multiple projects with writer, Kat Kruger, including just turning in that application for the Georgetown Steam Plant graphic novel project!
Locals can see me at the Red Pencil Conference on September 23rd. I'll be tabling with Kat Kruger and on an editing panel with Kristy Valenti of Fantagraphics and mainstream artist Moritat. And in March of 2018, I'll be tabling at Emerald City Comicon!
Instead of starting this week's picks looking backward at the barfing horror show of a week that proceeded it, let us turn our attention to the heavens, to the cleaving of our nation by a shadow stripe which will wend its way from west to east, a direction opposite the sun's travel (therefore significant, symbolically), and in that unearthly darkness (the shadow of which, for a minute or three, reminds us of one necessary constant in our lives that we barely pay enough heed to, the mostly unhidden sun) may the sins of our forbearers be purified in the birth of a new sun, a post eclipse sun, a sun whose rays pierce madness and bring succor to pain and horror and fear. Let this moment our country is experiencing be but a symptom of misunderstood celestial psychology; for ask any emergency room worker and they will tell you that things are worse at a full moon. Surely, then, there is a possibility that the madness we are amidst, this unhinged and unbalanced carnage of irrationality could be tied to the heavens and the gravitational bodies swinging against each other, drawn by the magnetism of our dense inflamed nuclear center. Let it be so. Let us be free of this terror.
Apparently, eclipses inspire great awe. Don't take my word for it, listen to Annie Dillard:
I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it. During a partial eclipse the sky does not darken—not even when 94 percent of the sun is hidden. Nor does the sun, seen colorless through protective devices, seem terribly strange. We have all seen a sliver of light in the sky; we have all seen the crescent moon by day. However, during a partial eclipse the air does indeed get cold, precisely as if someone were standing between you and the fire. And blackbirds do fly back to their roosts. I had seen a partial eclipse before, and here was another.
Lauren Michele Jackson argues that the explosion of white-owned "craft" businesses are built on privilege and appropriation. You will not be surprised to learn this is not a new phenomenon. As Jackson points out, Jack Daniels himself learned how to distill from an enslaved black man named Nathan "Nearest" Green. Jackson visits barbecue and coffee as well, bringing forth the black history so readily ignored.
Craft culture looks like white people. The founders, so many former lawyers or bankers or advertising execs, tend to be white, the front-facing staff in their custom denim aprons tend to be white, the clientele sipping $10 beers tends to be white. Craft culture tells mostly white stories for mostly white consumers, and they nearly always sound the same: It begins somewhere remote-sounding like the mountains of Cottonwood, Idaho, or someplace quirky like a basement in Fort Collins, Colorado, or a loft in Brooklyn, where a (white) artisan, who has a vision of back in the day, when the food was real and the labor that produced it neither alienated nor obscured — and discovers a long-forgotten technique, plucked from an ur-knowledge as old as thought and a truth as pure as the soul.
Can you believe it hasn't even been a fucking week since that shitshow? A moment so present and intense in cultural life, that it will be the point they talk about in history books. You could feel how palpable it was, the needless and horrible deaths, the nazi inciting to violence, the militias armed to the teeth and ready to defend...something.
But of all the reports I've read from the ground, Blake Montgomery's coverage for BuzzFeed News is the clearest and most well laid-out. It's a nice companion piece to the Vice Media video that has been so widely shared.
Yes, you can blame the Nazis.
The race-fueled chaos that wracked Charlottesville, Virginia, finally came to rest on Sunday night. And the hundreds of people who spent the weekend fighting in streets — and the millions who watched them — began what has become a new American ritual: arguing about what really happened, and what a spasm of localized political violence means.
Was this an assault by racist extremists on innocent, rightly outraged Americans? Was it a clash between “many sides,” as President Trump notoriously said? Was the scale of the white supremacist threat blown out of proportion? Was the violence of the black-hooded “antifa” understated?
The answers are clearer on the ground than they are in the filter bubbles driven by fierce partisan argument on social media and cable news. They are complicated but not ambiguous. Here are a few:
Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman draw the stark line in the sand for Jews who either support, or think they have found common cause with our president. There is no middle ground here, now that he has unequivocally showed his truth. The time to oppose him is now.
So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.
Now he’s coming after you. The question is: what are you going to do about it? If you don’t feel, or can’t show, any concern, pain or understanding for the persecution and demonization of others, at least show a little self-interest. At least show a little sechel. At the very least, show a little self-respect.
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What's your favorite fair? Everybody thinks of the Washington State Fair ("the Puyallup"), around our parts, but that one is so big and crowded. Just north, in Monroe, is the smaller, but no less exciting, Evergreen State Fair, right at the Speedway, so you can watch drag races while eating your cotton candy. My personal favorite, since I spent a lot of time in Bellingham, is the Northwest Washington Fair, up in Lynden, Washington.
What makes the fair so great? It's surely not the junk food, the queasy-making rides, or the big concerts (in Lynden, you can see Night Ranger, in Monroe, Joan Jett — she puts on a mean show — but at the Puyallup, you can see Modest Mouse, the Beach Boys, Earth, Wind, and Fire, just to name a few of the major headliners). It's a kind of homespun insanity of 4H farm kids, mixed with cowboys and functional western fetish-wear, mashed into a rock 'n roll carny factory, that always has a tinge of a Stephen King story. Like, something could go terribly wrong at any minute.
It's the barnfuls of ribboned swine, next door to hucksters selling the latest gadget in a small booth, their microphones broadcasting their prattle to the walkers-by. It's the dress horses, and at least in Lynden, the Clydesdales, all hitched in a train to an open-back wagon that they high-walk around the ring. It's the John Deere tractors out for sale, and the little area where the RV dealer sets up so you can walk through your mobile dream.
Sure, it's the rides. It's getting whipped around on a ride where half the seats are closed, and the whole thing is shored up on the grass by some old boards. It's wondering what must have happened for that handwritten sign that says "no open toed shoes" to be made and stuck up. It's the weird math trying to figure out how many ride tickets you'll need to do everything you want. Then, it's those blissful few moments being tossed around and given a thrill, before coming back down to your own two feet and a desire to eat more.
Every bit of food is big at the fair, and not as expensive as you might find at a year-round amusement park. If it's not deep fried, it could be, and if it couldn't be, somebody has surely tried. Ice cream sandwiches the size your head, and so many hamburgers you have to wonder if they have a butcher tent out back of the beef barn to keep them supplied.
It's the change in the air as the sun goes down, and the little kids go home to bed. The teenagers rule the midway, as the parents go off to watch some country music. It's the pubescent explosion of promise, that oversized stuffed animal roped high above the games that could be won but for trying, and that first stolen kiss, sweet with sno cone syrup still on the lip.
The state fairs are many things to many people, and maybe that's why I love them so much. I never feel like I belong, in truth, but I always feel like I'm wandering through a thousand other stories, and getting to see so many parts of it. Makes it fun to think about what kind of things are happening there.
They stuck her on the kiddie roller coaster again. Taking tickets. Getting the little shits in the cars, every other seat broken and unsafe. But as the kids went around the boring little track, she was watching across the way, at the Thrill-O-Wheel, where her connection was running the show. She was starting to get a bit antsy. The delivery was supposed to happen an hour ago, and the little shits might just drive her to madness before the fix came in. That's when the princess stepped up with her tickets and demanded entrance to the car in front, one of the broken ones.
It was a dare. When the person you have a crush on is going on a stomach-turning ride, and your friends volunteer you to go with, you can't say no. And maybe you can hold in the milkshake and fries you just ate and not throw up on your crush, and maybe they will reach out to grab your hand, like in your most feverish dream. But neither of you look at each other as the bars come down. Only after it's too late and they say "I really, really don't want to do this" and you say "oh god me neither" do you notice how both sets of your friends are laughing out loud. You both were set up.
They got a shipment of three thousand units before the fair. Balance boards, of all the goddamn things. "We'll do the health angle. Good for aging, agility, strength, that kind of bullshit. I'll get banners printed up tonight," Mark said. Desi thought it was better than last year, hawking those stupid juicers, but how good are they gonna do next to the fidget spinner booth? Maybe Desi was getting to old for the game. Maybe
Nobody pays attention to the meet-cute of best friends. Unless it's a romantic thing, nobody talks about anniversaries, or years together. Friendships outlast the marriages, sometimes, go through the illnesses and children and everything together. But nobody talks about how special they are, not really. But one started that day, all because of two coincidences. First, being next to each other on the giant slide, and chatting on the way up. Then, second, finding out they were working in the same ice cream booth. The story has yet to unfold, but one thing is worth saying up front: this friendship will span their whole lives, and they will never be closer to another than they are to each other.
"It's gonna be you," she said, leaning down and petting the side of her soon-to-be prize pig. "It's gonna be you. I know it. You're gonna take blue." The pig, dappled with black and pink, leaned into the hand and snorted, turning its head, its wet snout glistening in the morning light. "You're the prettiest pig, the smartest pig, the best all around pig, and I know you're gonna win." The pig looked up at her, seemed to cock an eyebrow, as if waiting for the but ... Then it came: "just so long, that is, as you don't let them know you can talk."
The date of this year's Lit Crawl was announced on Facebook this week. It will happen the evening of Thursday, October 19th and it will feature more than 35 events spread over more than 15 venues. If you already have plans for the evening of the 19th, you should cancel them. You can expect to be busy from 5 pm until bedtime.
Published August 18, 2017, at 10:26am
Today's news that Steve Bannon was fired from the White House is good news because it means a self-described villain no longer has direct access to the levers of power. But it's bad news because it means Bannon is free to do whatever he wants. What's his plan?
Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna Madrid can help. Send your Help Desk Questions to email@example.com.
I’m soooo tired of summer reading lists. What’s so special about summer? Can’t we all read in the winter too? In fact, isn’t winter better for reading, what with the incessant rain and all?
And what’s up with all the sweetness-and-light? When I’m sitting by the lake, what I really want is something meaty — something to distract me from giant ball of radioactive gas beating down and the razor-sharp grains of sand worked into the nap of my beach towel.
You’re the only one I trust. What should I put on my summer reading list that reflects the inevitable heat-driven doom that we’re pushing our planet toward?
Warmly (too warmly) yours,
My apologies for getting to your letter so late in the season – I volunteer with the Break a Wish Foundation and summer is our busiest time of the year. As you might have guessed from this column, I am devoted to helping the less fortunate – the clueless, the tasteless, the terminally ill – which includes telling little Bruno that no, Michael Jackson will not be the special guest at your final birthday party, but here, take this single Bedazzled rubber glove and a polaroid of a flawlessly circumcised penis instead.
You are correct — winter is the best time for reading, and many summer reading lists are as fatally flawed as marriage vows and little Bruno’s right atrium. Light fiction should be saved for January, when our will to wash ourselves is weakest and we spend hours idly contemplating where to dump our parents off to die with dignity once they are too old to amuse us.
Conversely, what people need during summer is not fluff; they need something to balance out the relentless optimism of the sun. Here are a few sometimes bleak, weird and gripping books I suggest for you: The Answers, by Catherine Lacey, 100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin, and The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
How does a wallaby play into this? Maybe you think I’d be excited to see a wallaby on a farm, because what could be normal about that? That’s not how I felt — but all of this will make more sense later.
Most modern superhero comics feel like action figure catalogs. Every story involves a new costume, or an alternate-reality version of a character, or a new character taking over the title temporarily. It just feels like the creators are stewards of an IP, adding value to the original concept by spinning a variant into existence that will one day be molded into plastic and sold.
The first issue of artist Greg Capullo and writer Scott Snyder's DC crossover comic Dark Nights: Metal is basically everything modern audiences want in superhero comics: wall-to-wall action, decorated with a bunch of Easter eggs that call back to decades of convoluted continuity. It opens with the Justice League in outer space, being forced into gladiatoral combat, and it expands into a secret society revealing the imminent invasion of a grave threat that might destroy the universe or whatever.
Snyder and Capullo create at least two sets of likely profitable action figures in the first ten pages of this book: Gladiator Justice League and Voltron Justice League. Later, we see silhouettes indicating yet another variant: Evil Alternate Universe Batman Justice League. Plus, Batman rides a dinosaur and he almost says the word "ass," both of which are sure to wind up in some listicle on some zombie comics news site as one of the Top 15 Most Awesome Moments In Comics This Year. (You can practically read the breathless copy now: "Four words: Batman. Riding. A. Dinosaur. 'Nuff said.")
There's an obvious high level of competency in the actual craft of the comic. Snyder is very good at getting information across in a very small space, and Capullo is better than most superhero comics artists at designing a page. They seem to work well together, and the book is technically very proficient.
But the last page involves a character who simply shouldn't be there. I won't spoil the big surprise, but let's just say it's akin to the revelation that DC Comics is incorporating Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen comics into mainstream DC continuity. It feels like another pointless violation of another barrier, and it cheapens a much-loved comics property by turning it into a plot point. But hey — at least it'll make a really cool action figure line one day.
Seattle poet (and the current poet in residence here at the Seattle Review of Books) Daemond Arrindell is the curator for the 2018 Jack Straw Writers program. That means Arrindell will choose the writers who take part in the program, and he'll take a leadership role as the writers learn how to share their work as spoken word and in recordings. Jack Straw is taking applications for the program through November 1st. You can apply right here.
Electric Literature reports on what one indie bookstore did when some fascists came in and tried to use their store as a marketing campaign for an alt-right douchebag's book.
Headline of the week: "I Bought a Book About the Internet From 1994 and None of the Links Worked." We think of the internet as lasting forever, but the truth is that this is a very fluid medium.
A Texas assistant principal was forced out of his job after self-publishing a children's book. It sounds truly awful — and by "it," I mean the book, not the fact that the guy lost his job:
The book features allusions that may go over some children’s heads. The setting is a farm called Wishington. The antagonist is a bearded alligator named “Alkah.” Astute readers will recognize Covfefe cliff. But perhaps the most inflammatory aspect is the smiling cartoon frog, which NBC News has called a “popular white nationalist symbol.” “Pede,” the name of the cartoon centipede that also graces the book’s cover, is also a term members of a Donald Trump-themed Reddit board use to refer to each other.
Spoiler alerts ahead, but Pepe and his centipede sidekick Pede start the book ecstatic that the old farmer has left after eight years of oppression. But Alkah and his minions have entrenched themselves in a pond that very much resembles a swamp — and are threatening to spread throughout all of Wishington Farm. Pepe and Pede have one weapon to vanguish the gator: buds from the honesty tree.
Sierra Nelson loves cephalopods. Squids, octopuses, cuttlefish — you name it, if it’s a bilateral mollusk with a big-ass head, Nelson is positively gaga over it. Nelson is a Seattle-area poet, and you can understand how a poet might fall in love with betentacled sea creatures: they’re romantic figures, skulking in the ocean — a part of the great marine biosphere, but also remote from the whales and fish. Those articulate limbs and big brains set them apart from the rest, leaving them to skulk and mope fabulously. And they even produce their own ink! How could a poet not land on Team Cephalopod?
But Nelson is more science-minded than your average poet. She’s a co-founder of the Vis-á-Vis Society, which applies scientific rigor to crowd-sourced poems, often employing large crowds at parties to write, Mad Lib-style, a series of poems about love and longing. No other poets in town have likely dissected a poem into pie charts on a whiteboard while wearing a lab coat.
On her own, Nelson loves to tease out the poetry in science, finding resonance in the long and mysterious Latin words and phrases that we’ve used to name the world. One of my favorites of her poems is “The First Photograph,” which explains the process that created a blurry heliograph by the father of photography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce:
Through the pinprick it all came to us,
how close we were, upside down,
several hours on the windowsill.
We were surfaces arranged to receive.
The poem concludes: “Yet I capture you. Close to the sun./I coated my longing in bitumen.” Much has been written about the way photographs capture a moment in time, but rarely is that desperate need so beautifully overt.
So yes, there’s whimsy in Nelson’s celebration of all things squid and squid-like. But there’s also serious investigation and a questing mind, fusing together science and art and seeing what happens. She’s been throwing Cephalopod Appreciation Societies every year since 2015.
The Cephalopod Appreciation Society is a multidisciplinary arts celebration with music, film, visual art, poetry, and speeches. Past participants have included musician Lori Goldson, biologist Stephanie Crofts, marine cinematographer Laura James, and novelist Kevin Emerson, and presentations have included stickers, classes on incorporating marine biology into creative writing, octopus-themed animation, and sea shanty singalongs.
This year’s Society is in a different setting: whereas past assemblies happened at the creative hub of the Hugo House, this year’s edition meets on Sunday, August 20 at the Waterfront Space, a gallery on Western Ave. Nelson encourages participants of all ages to come dressed as their favorite cephalopod, and she promises there will be a “mini-parade” to the waterfront, presumably where she will call on a giant squid to rise from the deep and cast a judgment on Seattle. Will we be destroyed by the mammoth monster from the briny depths? Or will our suction-cupped friend recognize the like-minded intelligence in our eyes and guide us to a happier future? Only our molluscular overlords know for sure.
Nazism is on the rise in America, even though the generation that fought Nazis is still alive. I can’t be the only person who’s wondered if humanity is destined to repeat this resurgence of racists and white nationalists every 60 to 80 years, when the memory of the last battle has grown sufficiently dim.
Nazism is a virus. It passes from one infected person to another. The Charlottesville rally on Saturday was especially dangerous because the white supremacists didn’t wear masks; they very likely activated hundreds of other white supremacists who have to date been too ashamed to speak out in public about their own racist views. This is how it spreads. We have to be careful to not give these people platforms, because they will share their sickness far and wide.
Just as we can defeat sicknesses through inoculation and education, I have to believe that things will get better eventually, that we’ll learn from our own mistakes and eventually figure out a way to end this toxic cycle of racism. We can't keep making the same disgusting mistakes over and over.
We have plenty of examples of racism-free futures to look to for inspiration. Star Trek presented a color-blind society that had elevated beyond the horrific self-destructive behavior we’re seeing in 2017. And while Neal Stephenson’s novel Seveneves has its own complicated relationship with race, there is a passage late in the book that suggests the racism of the old planet Earth had been successfully eliminated.
So there are plenty of science fiction novels that show us a future in which Nazism and white supremacy have been eliminated. But so far as I know, there is not a science fiction novel showing how Nazism and white supremacy are eliminated. Some author somewhere should write that story: explain in stirring, dramatic detail how humanity manages to rise above its most toxic impulses and come together as one.
Don’t just skip ahead to the future: do the hard work of telling us how it happens. Rather than giving us a destination, share a roadmap. Give us a story where decent humans finally crush Nazism into nothingness. This is the sci-fi story that we need right now.
After Natasha Marin’s Red Lineage
my name stumbles ups the stairs
climbing towards grace, an ascending arc of red and gold
my mother's name mends shards back to glass
melts them down with the heat of a thousand hearts,
an aged and forgiving red
my father's name lives in a spoonful of shadows
hungering for a cloud that will rain red
follow the seedlings and you will see
my name become a little kite dancing in the wind,
stand still under the cicadas’ summer song
and see my mother's name strut
to a living and slowly dying beat of red
breathe in the fire’s flicker and my father’s name
tending to the embers collapsing red.
I come from a people known for speaking without saying,
for spitting the shine on their boots & stomping blackness
into the heavens.