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Small press book reviews and local author interviews

Look at this Amazing Thing my Friend is Doing: Kristen Stone Edition

Written by Kari Larsen, Community blogger | Aug 21, 2012 12:20 AM

I'm talking about

Unthinkable Creatures

Hatched just after New Years, Unthinkable Creatures has been but one way that Kristen Stone has staggered me all over two-thousand and twelve. This summer saw the release of her first book, Domestication Handbook, from Rogue Factorial.

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I am getting ahead of myself because I want to talk about the book. Even though my intention is to recognize what tremendousness Kristen Stone has achieved in putting out such incredible and tenderly produced work on Unthinkable Creatures, I must preface my statements by acknowledging that this is no unbiased review. For the most part, I have enjoyed being stunned and pinned and punished by work that has compelled me to seek out the author and, at the very least, keep track of what they're working on next. But Kristen Stone and I, although we met online through mutual connections with other writers, started out talking. She invited me to be the latest installment of Unthinkable Creatures, but that is the last I want to speak of my involvement, because I tell you: my chapbook, the Black Telephone, is for sale now, but everything I'm going to tell you about is much better.

The premiere Unthinkable Creatures title was i love crushes more than real things, a collaboration between Kristen Stone herself and Maureen Murtha. I know I said I would not bring up my book again, but something i love crushes and the Black Telephone have in common that I love dearly is the manner in which the text is arranged, cut and fastened and superimposed to the blank or photocopied background. The process of pagination can be disorienting and can inject a disembodied, out-of-control feeling to the making of a book, which should be intimate, you probably feel, if you are me. I could not imagine just leaving these words to sync up in geometric strategies, I would have to push them together:

Photo on 2012-08-20 at 21.24

Like I push them at you instead of typing them.

I know I said I was through with talking about myself, but I do hope my sense of this being utopian is infectious: somebody in Gainesville, Florida, is doing work that astounds me, and I get to be in on it - even as a fan, even more than that.

Write, Dad by Kristen E. Nelson was next, and while I was on board for anything, I could not have anticipated the continuous shiver of reading this book, with its static-stricken photo on the cover. I opened it after a long work week and, tearing it out of its package, I opened to the line that read "your honesty has duration." My curious partner handled it and observed the old labelmaker title on the cover. He handed it back to me and said, smiling, "That will fade, don't forget what it says."

I had all ready wrapped up writing the Black Telephone when the next title, Oliver Bendorf and Selena Clare's the Flying Unicycle: a Queer Adventurestory came to me. This I will be pirating, quoting, and otherwise propelling into the arms of everyone I'll ever meet because of everyone I've met who should have had a book like this as early as the Hungry Caterpillar. I'm not saying that because, it being illustrated, it is exactly suited for children, or because it shoulders complicated concepts on the kind of unfetteredness that can only be achieved by being a real poet, but because things like this should be in one's head, reducable, in crisis, if anything, to love. The plot: a child escapes stress on a magical unicycle to a party in the forest. "Sappho," the frog croaked. "Love it, learn it!"

All of this and I am omitting the fact that each of these are hand-crafted, variously painted, threaded, handled with skin. Not to diminish that fevermouth of a hellswamp that is the Florida climate, but I have a walking commute, and between the weather we have had and my just-finished reading of John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead, wherein he recounts Andrew Lytle calling him beloved, I thought: by virtue of the weather, all things must be a little more intimate in the South.

All of this - I meant to say before I had to mention the physical - while Kristen Stone is reading my essay. I am not a writer of essays. I do not think of them as I think of blogs, where I put on voices. I think of them as contributing to a conversation a step beyond a comment thread, of being graded, of backing up my feelings with cited sources. I let this insecurity infiltrate the essay. Meanwhile, I received Kristen Stone's Domestication Handbook in the mail. Between her editing the Black Telephone and many, many emails only tangentially related, I don't think I have mentioned to her reading the book, which I have done twice. My response to her last email is still in draft form, since I started going off the rails in response to her disappointment in Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? which she and I both just finished. Both How Should a Person Be? and Domestication Handbook are concerned with guidance. HSAPB? is the story of one seeking guidance. DH is the positing of, juxtaposing means of, confrontation with, and hymn with guidance, the idea of being led: into camera bags in closets and holes in the yard and the condensation across somebody's skin. The thing that disappointed me in Heti's book is how it seems the alternative to determining, ultimately, how a person should be, is graphic, scatalogical misery, while Stone is up for exploring the very notion of how we behave with constraints, with contours. Domestication is a rigid concept, and yet Kristen's book contains a spectrum while Heti's book diminishes to a focused duel between doing it wrong and doing it right, however unclear that may be. Remember not to take me seriously, though. Like the characters in Heti's book, I could not judge Kristen in an Ugly Painting Contest, but I am confident even just "Investment mission" could highjack any reader's senses and enrapture them unfailingly:

I wake in corn country to hundreds of millions of potential consumers. I wake next to the neighbor's soybeans, to a booming middle class.

I am too happy to impart tell of Kristen Stone's stunningness here on Very Literary and hope wayfaring Googlers will join me again soon for more enthusiasm.

Wayfaring strangers IRL can actually, physically join me at the Midtown Scholar on Saturday, August 25, between 2 and 4pm, where I will be reading and yammering about some of these same things, but with nervous gesticulations.


(Poster art by Kara Sheaffer, a forthcoming subject of such a post as this.)

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