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08 March 2011

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, experimental motherhood, chapbook reading period, chronic lurchers, Ally Harris, Johannes Goransson, Traci O. Connor, eating babies, etc

Today's post does not necessarily reflect the views of Tarpaulin Sky Press authors or staff, with the exception of TSky Press publisher, Christian Peet.

That said, and switching now to the first-person while noting the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day, I'd like to dedicate this post to one particular woman, my friend Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, whose (small(ish)-press!) memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, is a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist this year.

Sadly, Reiko's book, the book's nomination, and indeed most of the book's content has been overshadowed by media attention to one particular element of Reiko's story: how she's raised her children. Though slightly more balanced in a recent appearance on The Gayle King Show, Reiko's recent appearances on The Today Show and in articles at Salon and Shine have spawned a "discussion" (attack) that focuses solely on Reiko's "unorthodox" parenting of her two boys--boys who, in a recent visit to my house, seemed blissfully unaware of the suffering that some 15, 000 people at Shine alone desperately want to believe they have endured as a result of Reiko not only leaving them with Dad for six months(!), once(!), on a research grant(!), but also moving down the street from them(!), rather than in their home with her ex-husband(!)

I think Amy King, via Facebook, put it best: "Gasp."

But what is ordinarily a non-conversation, when the not-at-home parent is Daddy, has become a viral, scathing attack on a vewwy vewwy baaad Mommy. Lost from this "conversation," of course, is any mention of the "other subjects" of her book--two little things called "Hiroshima" and "9/11"

Why sweat the small stuff. Right, "America"? Let's talk about the "sacred" institution of motherhood and make fetishes of children instead--meaning, the sacred institution of American motherhood, of course, and American children. Let's not talk about the motherless children and childless mothers of Hiroshima and the wars waged in the wake of 9/11.

O, siwwy wittle Amewwica. It would be so much easier to care about your adorable little monkeys if you didn't keep raising them to be self-righteous, daytime-talkshow-watching, non-reading, can't-find-Japan-on-a-map, xenophobic breeder-consumers.


While it is unsurprising that a culture that fetishizes children is routinely unable to generate discourse rising above a kindergarten level, what is more surprising is that a few people still remain--whether parents or ("gasp" again!) non-parents--who can deploy the words "childhood" or "parenthood," etc, without cooing platitudes and without causing us intentional-non-parents to spit up on ourselves.

The 400-plus page Fence Books anthology, Not For Mothers Only, collects works from many of these rare individuals (work by Rae Armantrout, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lee Ann Brown, Maxine Chernoff, Norma Cole, Gillian Conoley, Stacy Doris, Carolyn Forche, Kathleen Fraser, Fanny Howe, Elizabeth Robinson, Anne Waldman, Adrienne Rich, et al), as does Fence founder Rebecca Wolff's own most recent book of poetry, The King, one of my favorite books of 2009, with poems such as "The Bawdy Mothers" and "Breeder Sonnet," and the source of the following three-line poem re: the "miracle":

I had a baby

it was inevitable--
I was pregnant

TSky Press also received no shortage of chapbook and book-book manuscripts for our 2010 reading period (see update here) that offer interesting angles on children and parenthood. Ally Harris's chapbook manuscript, Floor Baby, was one such delight. Though the manuscript is concerned with much more than American kids, thank gawd, its title poem so delighted certain among us, we've published it and two others in TSky's Chronic Content section. Who couldn't love such a poem, really? So short and sweet, just like its subject:
Dear floor baby, you fucking lurcher, your floor bench, bilesome mechanical nest. Motion of layered no, egg the great goose, pained brow. The snapping light, notion of being the only only, notions of once-men. Dear floor baby, your plastic sax, lurching sadly just like you.
Read the rest of Ally's poems here, poems which, some might argue, are even better than the one that features that "fucking lurcher" above.


Forthcoming TSky Press author Johannes Goransson's recent post at Montevidayo, "Aase Berg on Motherhood and Authorship," in which Goransson provides a "rough translation" of Aase Berg's essay "Language and Madness," which was published a few years ago in an anthology of Scandinavian, Baltic and Russian poets.

Says Berg via Goransson:
In order for love to develop, there has to be distance. To feel love is only possible if one realizes that the symbiosis consists of two people. Love is an automatic split into you and me. You + me = we. If one is involved in the traditional, patriarchal psychosis there is no we. I am the world. In the great, self-righteous male despair there is no we, just one bloated I that swallows everything that moves. . . .
Please read the rest of the post and then pressure Johannes to translate more of the essay (because he's not already busy enough, as writer, publisher, professor, and--gasp!--parent).

Indeed I look to Johannes' own work for more interesting angles on the ab/uses of children in a culture that professes undying love for them--at least until they are no longer children but merely cannon fodder in the War to Keep America Ignorant and Bloated. That's just my presently ornery take, of course; Johannes says far more interesting things in his forthcoming Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate:

Knowledge is Power. That is what the billboard says and I agree. I am an adult, therefore I understand the threat of passengers. The threat to Our Children, who don’t understand the threat of these bird-like, twitchy people. They pose two kinds of threat. To begin with, there is the one we all know about, the predatory threat, the hawk-like passengers that prey on children as they sit in front of their computers or televisions. The terrorist threat. That threat is easy to handle. You shoot it. You contain it. You confiscate. You stitch. You bleed from various orifices and sockets, but you survive, you rebuild house and rinse the child. The more serious threat is the diseases passengers carry with them. Internal terrorism. Children love those diseases. It makes them babble like possessed. Their make-up looks like oil in the moonlight. Such children cannot be cleaned off. Kill them. Or turn them into entertainment. Art.

TSky Press author Traci O. Connor's Recipes for Endangered Species includes more than one delicious story regarding children as well as that never-anything-less-than-sacred-chicken-soup-for-the-soul condition called "motherhood."

In "Mrs. Rotham Has a Bun In the Oven and Plans to Eat It with Butter and Jam," for example, we find the following (here heavily excerpted from several pages):
She is only weeks perhaps days even hours away from giving birth, and her belly feels volcanic beneath her hands. When, she thinks, did my life become all this? The baby bellows deep inside her. God. I am the black inside a hole, she thinks. And her husband, she thinks of him—what he looked like when his body was human and not something fashioned of tubes and pumps and blips on a screen....

She had decided in the fourth month, the night of her husband’s accident (the fiery juncture of a hasty retreat and a mule deer in the median; important details, but try not to dwell on them), while vomiting into a dumpster, that when the baby was born she would eat it. As viciously sick as she was, she knew, even then, that it was her responsibility. She couldn’t drown the baby, or leave it in a bathroom stall, or bury it—as the Arabs did—in the desert. And besides, there was always the possibility that someone would find the baby’s body and then, what, arrest her? No no.

And what call would they have, anyway?

It is, after all, her body. Her cells. Her skin. Her blood. Her oxygen. Not so different than chewing her nails, or gnawing the top layer from her chapped lips. It’s true, she imagines, that the baby’s bones might be difficult to get through—a texture problem (like water chestnuts, which give her the shivers)—but small enough, especially since she’s been careful to watch her calories, that she’ll manage....

Do you find the idea of eating babies repellent?

What if you were stranded in the Andes?

What if the baby was made of marzipan?

What if you were on a deserted island with nothing to eat but a few coconuts which gave you the worst diarrhea, and besides, there was only one palm tree because the island was that small and it was quickly running out of fruit; in fact, the tree was dying, too much salt, perhaps, or the sun was too hot, or the idea of it—being all alone on a little bump of sand—just made it want to give up?

But what if the baby was fried up with onions?

What if it was roasted with thyme?

What if it was all you ever wanted for as long as you could remember and everything you couldn’t have and now it’s staring you in the face like a long black hallway—palpable and altogether terrifying in that Good God is there somebody there—Hello? Anybody?—kind of way?

Also of note, today(ish):

Though they forgot to mention their children in the process (what's wrong with them, anyway?), TSky Peep Bhanu Kapil and TSky author Danielle Dutton both hold forth on "experimental literature" at HTML Giant: Danielle here, Bhanu here.

And, last, but anything but least: Jenny Boully--a new mommy just this year, and indeed the woman whose [one love affair]* not only launched, but is the reason we launched, Tarpaulin Sky Press--has a new book coming out with us soon: not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them. (We're already mailing review copies; please email cpeet@tarp... if you want one.) It's something like a re-envisioning of J.M. Berrie's Peter and Wendy. The "something like" part means it's not for kids.
Peter does some things to you, and after that you fit. For the house underground, he’ll take your measurements; he’ll see how tall, how wide is that tree and whether or not you’ll survive without scratches, without getting stuck, going down. He’ll find a tree; he’ll find a tree for you. And then, thereafter, it will be your tree, all hollow on the inside. And a little bird will come and a little caterpillar will come and perhaps a little apple too will grow for you. Oh, Wendy, don’t look now, but your dress is just a tad bit shorter than it was when. Do you think he’ll notice? Do you think he’ll notice when you droop a little, when you stoop a little, when you hunch a little on your way down? Peter does some things to you, and after that, you will want to fit; you will want to fit forever.

First, it will be the size of this here speck of sand, Wendy, and then, while you’re asleep, that’s when it will start to grow little feet. It will grow into the size of an acorn and then into something you can hold. We’ll make-believe a bottle of warm milk for it; we’ll make-believe the doctor’s come to tidy things. But will it fly, like all of our other children, dear? It will fly, Wendy, and I’ll always keep it. Here. And it will grow wild and unshaken; it will have a cloven foot and mane. My dear.


Reiko will be on The View on Friday, March 11. I think we're all hoping the spin will be respun. Perhaps to include Hiroshima? 9/11? The National Book Critics Circle Nomination? The ceremony is on the 10th, methinks, so maybe it will even be a discussion of the award. Either way, it will not include the following video.

Kudos, Reiko. xoXtian