Sunday Review: Spring Sleepers
a chapbook from Kyoko Yoshida
[ Strangers Press / 2016 / 44 pp ]
Spring Sleepers is one of eight beautifully crafted chapbooks that make up Strangers Press’ KESHIKI project. Whilst all of the books look remarkable, Spring Sleepers was uniquely appealing. The hazy-dream-like title and geometrically-blossomed cover pulled me into a story that navigates the spaces between waking and sleep, a tale drenched with an unnerving melancholy that feels both comfortable yet uneasy—like warm rain whilst swimming.
The first lines are soft, delicate and inviting:
“Spring had come. Spring, when one would doze in gentle late morning light streaming through gauze curtains. The cherry blossom petals were falling like snow, covering the ponds, meadows, streets. The hills wore the blush of pink.”
Despite all this softness, the protagonist is suffering from genuine insomnia, a medical condition that he is initially proud of, yet becomes increasingly less so as he spirals into anxiety and delirium. As time passes he forgets the words for the simplest of things, and anguishes over endless nights of sleeplessness: “At night, he was bored. Night was forever.”
The story reminded me in some ways of the works of Taichi Yamada. Dreamlike and uncomfortable. In Yamada’s novel Strangers, like in Spring Sleepers, a narrative of melancholy and warm-familiarity comes to an abrupt and violent end. And though this story is short, it is deeply layered with imagery and nuance: doctors and paper-cut people litter the landscape, whilst the newness of spring and the cold depths of snow encroach upon the reader.
This isn’t a story you need to fully understand in one reading. In fact you shouldn’t, it would belie the intricacies of a dreamscape that is awkward and difficult to move through. Like a dream, this story is sometimes nonsensical, built upon layers of imagery but at the same time fully aware of itself. It is so much more than awake or asleep.
Visit Strangers Press to purchase the book.
Reviewer / Michelle Tudor
Five Things with Eve L. Ewing
1. The last thing that made you smile.
I am writing this from a plane (what an age of miracles) and I have one of those rotating desktop patterns on my computer. So unexpectedly, when I opened, I saw a photo of my niece wearing a t-shirt I bought for her in Cape Town. It has the outline of the continent of Africa and it says “hello” in several different languages, with a big bright JAMBO!, and in the picture she is smiling this kind of lovely, silly smile and her pigtails are a little askew. I bought the shirt when it was too big for her and this was the first time she had grown into it and could wear it, so my mother took the picture and sent it to me. My family is really important to me and I relish the little moments of growth and change and love and … it just made me smile. Also a nice counterpoint to the child two rows in front of me who is literally the worst-behaved child I have ever seen on a flight. I try not to judge other people’s kids in public because I am superstitious and I feel like it will come back to haunt me, and also because children can have disabilities or issues you don’t know about, or just be tired, but he keeps screaming and hitting his mom and slamming his tablet around and I want to give him a long talking-to. But I digress.
2. A secret.
I keep (very) overpriced bars of “reward chocolate” in my office desk and bring it out when I feel like I have earned a little reward. And a fridge full of La Croix and coconut water. It’s the ultimate bougie fridge. If I could have a microwave in my office, I would. I am very extroverted but have a sort of misanthropic/socially anxious side and I like to have mechanisms that allow me to minimize or eliminate human contact as needed, which would probably surprise people who know me because I’m very social and outgoing. Sometimes I consider building an under-desk napping/hiding space like George Costanza did in Seinfeld but I haven’t gotten there yet.
3. The last thing you wrote.
A first half/rough draft/beginning attempt at a poem about going to the allergy doctor. I have severe allergies and I get shots every week, and it’s a very fascinating and strangely endearing experience.
4. Favourite city.
My truest and first love, the greatest city in the known universe, my sweet home Chicago. This is the only correct answer. I also consider Boston my adopted second home. I used to hate it but it really grew on me, that scoundrel. I am also fond of New York (in small doses; I can only stand so many talented, beautiful, stressful people at a time), Paris (the first place I ever felt at home outside Chicago), San Francisco/the Bay area (so untenable in so many ways now, but as a food nerd I love going there), and Atlanta is just really dope—the people are really nice and chill and there are lots of cool and kind of weird young black people.
5. What you’d place in a time capsule.
I guess it depends on who the audience would be—like a time capsule for all of society, or for my descendants, or…? I would probably do something really wonky and fake-scientific like decide on a random number and just choose every Nth object so that it would provide an accurate representation of daily life rather than focusing on a few key things. I think an error we make as people is that we underestimate the parts of our quotidian world that would mean something to other people. Recently I visited my father and his best friend was there, and he gave me these slides of paintings my father made of Harold Washington when I was a baby. He said my dad wanted to throw them away and he had saved them all these years. When my dad saw them he kind of made fun of me, like “oh, are you gonna look at those on your slide projector?” and he felt like his friend had saved literal garbage. But they meant a lot to me. We are, as a general rule, poor judges of the history we live.
Eve L. Ewing is an essayist and poet. Her first collection of poetry, essays, and visual art, Electric Arches, is forthcoming from Haymarket Books in fall 2017, and she co-edited the fiction anthology Beyond Ourselves. Her work has appeared in venues such as Poetry, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Washington Post, Union Station, the Indiana Review, the anthology The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, and many other outlets. Eve is proud to be one-half of the poetry duo Echo Hotel, alongside Hanif Abdurraqib. She is also the co-director of Crescendo Literary, a partnership that develops resources and events rooted in community-engaged art. She lives in Chicago.
poetry from Erin O’Malley
The future of poetry is in the hands of some amazing young, up-and-coming poets, as revealed in the inaugural poem published in the new The Ellis Review. A magazine that proudly exclaims “new beginnings” for anyone with a voice, O’Malley’s stunning short poem delivers their mission statement with power and poignancy. This poem is a world where “graveyards grow” and contains “an endless winter”—with all the violence and fear in our current day and age, it is especially important for writers to take the ugly in this time and make it beautiful, haunting. With the poem’s epigraph, a quote from one of Russia’s greatest poets, Anna Akhmatova, her legacy continues to inspire and reach those who care about language and power.
Visit The Ellis Review to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen
short story from Kristen Arnett
Give me an intimate object come to life, insatiable and sentient, and I am yours. Anything where the boundaries of metaphorical and literal blur together, opening a space for profound fiction. At the center of Kristen Arnett’s story, ‘With Teeth,’ is a chair that consumes; at the center of Arnett’s story is a family. The specifics of the characters involved are brief, but the emotional truths of this story are dark and deep. The chair is the history of the family and every seam of it reveals the dynamic of people who are tied by blood and circumstance to each other—the heartache, large and small cruelties, and yes, even love of family.
Visit Cosmonauts Avenue to read the story.
Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby
The Drowned Ball
art from Zelda Devon
Visual art, or illustration, is something that I’ve found has always been intertwined with storytelling. Good art will do the same thing that good poetry or fiction will; it evokes a sense of familiarity and curiosity, buries you in a single moment, another time. Good art evokes a distinct atmosphere, and hangs around like a persistent, dream-like memory.
I don’t remember where I first encountered Zelda’s artwork, but I know I’ve seen it accompanying fiction in several publications and spec fic magazines. What I loved about ‘The Drowned Ball’ was how much it seemed to have to say, the amount of strange and sad and beautiful going on all at once inside of it. It vividly captures a striking moment, the rush of the moment before it’s all swept away by the sea.
If you’re in need of some inspiration, or just hungry for more, here are a few of my favourites: Resurrected King, Death of Cleopatra, Bone Flower Throne, with even more to be found over at her portfolio.
Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong
The Key Bearer’s Parents
short story from Siân Griffiths
I read this short story by Siân Griffiths in American Short Fiction soon after it was first published in January of this year, and I wasn’t ready for it. Trump’s inauguration was a few weeks away and everyone and everything around me was in a varying state of numbness, shock, and teeth-cracking rage. The narrative is heartbreaking and simple, with clear themes of war, class, parenting, and existential dread. But I wasn’t really ready for it so I filed it away in the “Wilds posts” folder. But the clowns and their son had wormed their way under my skin. When I reread it recently, this stopped my heart:
“On the news, the talk was all nuclear war and how to avoid it. The broadcasts filled with the whole ‘key bearer’ plan. Ethicists argued that war would be less likely if some kind of key were implanted in a person’s heart. What president wouldn’t pause if he had to stab the bearer to drop that bomb? The president, they said, must be the first to bloody his hands.”
I don’t really know what to say now, other than these words seem to only glow hotter, more magical in their terror. Every week’s worth of news pumps a little more blood into this story, and I can only hope its fictiveness doesn’t turn inside out into a headline, an unending list of casualties.
Visit American Short Fiction to read the story.
Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein
poetry from Terrance Hayes
I admit that the retrogrades threw me for a loop the past week because many things in my life that seemed to be set shifted unexpectedly. Yet as I felt the ground quaking under me, the one thing that never wavered was my sense of longing for a certain person. I discovered ‘At Pegasus’ when I went looking for anything to match or quench this feeling.
We’re lead into a comparison of the men and myth: “they’re like those crazy women / who tore Orpheus / when he refused to sing.” This is a stunning comparison because Orpheus in Ovid is still singing of his grief over Eurydice when he’s torn limb from limb. The women’s jealousy is so strong that they’d rather destroy the man they desire than hear him speak of anyone else. We enter the poem in this intensity, we’re told to tread lightly where people have come to indulge. No one wants to hear of the speaker’s sorrow or past loves; maybe this is why he turns stunningly inward.
Pegasus always opens a spring upon landing, so what if this club is not the horse-god himself, but the imprint and the singular outpouring? Even from the opening, Hayes is calling us to peel back the layers of myth and wade deeper. The speaker rejects a dance while later admitting that he has “held a boy on his back before.” We spin out of this confession to discover the easy intimacy of the speaker & his friend, and his hesitance to physically address those on the floor. He sees a young man slipping his thumb inside of the mouth of an older man; he’s “not that far away,” but his gaze is the only touch he’s allowed himself. While they are not obviously present in the poem, I looked for his hands in this moment. I could feel the itch in them while he held himself in suspension. As this scene flitted around him, I envied the spill that never reaches his mouth.
Visit Poets.org to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse