A curated literary guide

Week #29 / 17th – 23rd July, 2017

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To the Next Girl Who Dates W

a short story from Jane Dickenson​

I did not go looking for a story about heartache. I did not go looking for a story about love. About as black-hearted as they come, I’m rarely enticed by narratives focused on romantic relationships, yet here I am recommending Jane Dickenson’s ‘To the Next Girl Who Dates W.’ With her sharp, cookie-fortune-short first sentence, “You will most likely meet him somewhere charming,” Dickenson charmed me into reading and enjoying what I usually dislike the most. Purely from a plot perspective, not much happens that we haven’t all lived through or heard before: man and woman meet, a bit of romantic pas de deux, the connection fizzes out—but Dickenson’s unconventional second-person narrator sidesteps treacle, just as the occasionally unconventional grammar gives the story a grit and liveliness that offsets any too-sweetness. Don’t get me wrong: the story isn’t somber; in fact, by masterfully pulling a thread about a Halloween prop through the entire piece, Dickenson does what every great story should do—it made me feel.

Visit Slush Pile Magazine to read the story.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

For all the masks formed:

a poem from Ashley Harris

white boy
with blonde hair and blue eyes
fits all sizes,

The latest issue of Cartridge Lit is full of wonderful video game related work. Many of the poems from this issue were stellar, but this particular poem by Ashley Harris stood out to me. ‘For all the masks formed:’, an examination of race through one of the gameplay mechanics of Majora’s Mask, struck me as particularly insightful. There are many parallels to be made with the perception of race through the structure and set-up of games. Not only does Harris tackle cultural appropriation and assimilation cleverly, but she also shines a spotlight on notions of the default, or the neutral. Who takes on these spaces, who gets to inhabit those neutral spaces? Whose face is the first you see upon waking, upon pressing start?

The history of race
Is a history of masks, a history
Of those forced to
wear them, and those who do it

The use of a mask allows Link to gain abilities attributed to characteristics of these types of characters or creatures, and Link, as the default, is able to slip seamlessly from one to the other. In reality, symbolic objects and behaviours are worn like masks, made into novelties and commodities. Harris points the gaze towards the consequences of these thefts, these borrowed masks. Every mask at a cost, at a body lost to the system that tried to do away with it, but kept the parts it wanted for itself. Who decides that the player should win at any cost, by any means? Who decides the hero? Who builds the worlds in which identity is a commodity to be tried on if it suits you, made a product for your consumption?

I’ve watched people try on bodies so long
I mistook skin as clothing,

Visit Cartridge Lit to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

An Essay about Being a Non Male Non Female Person in the Literary World Written in the Form of a Dream

a lyric essay from Moss Angel

Moss Angel’s Sara or the Existence of Fire is the book of poetry I lend out most often. It’s so vital and resonant, and it’s one of the most important inspirations for my own work. Angel’s prose poems are often surreal narratives that open up the known world to expose its inner magic. Angel’s piece at VIDA continues in this form. VIDA is running a series “about the unique experiences in the literary world outside of the binary.” Angel, who is agender, titled their piece ‘An Essay about Being a Non Male Non Female Person in the Literary World Written in the Form of a Dream.’

Written in the attention-holding second person singular, the essay-dream looks at communities and how they open themselves up (or close themselves off) to new members. Angel reshapes such things as respectability politics and social privilege into a narrative of many-armed people standing in line waiting for food. You have to have the right type of arm, fashioned in the right place, in order to line up at a given table.

The “you” in the poem isn’t allowed in any of the food lines. They end up cutting off their arms and dancing/bleeding to their death. The parable-quality of the dream-essay is upfront. The literary world, very much a white cishetero institution, is a difficult sea to navigate for those outside the gender binary. Privilege and tokenism run rampant; journals perform their progressiveness by running “themed issues” every so often; work by non-binary writers is rarely reviewed in the mainstream (or even off the mainstream).

I hope you sit with this dream-essay, and think about how, even in purportedly progressive spaces, marginalization continues and thrives. And I hope you pick up a copy of Sara or the Existence of Fire—if not, I’d be happy to lend it to you.

Visit VIDA to read the lyric essay.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein

Once More to See You

music from Mitski

I always tell my friends that if Mitski had come up as a rockstar during my high school days, I would have avoided SO much heartache. Definitely an exaggeration, but there weren’t many women (let alone of color) in the genre that I could relate to this closely. ‘Once More to See You’ often makes me feel sixteen again because it captures a sense of longing that consumed me then. Even idly doodling in a notebook and planning my next big move, I’d still have someone secretly in the back of my mind.

We open with Mitski’s sigh and the words, “in the rearview mirror, / I saw the setting sun on your neck / and felt the taste of you / bubble up inside me.” I love how this line establishes distance: the you is close enough to be watched, but too far to really be touched or felt. The mirror gaze is pretty inconspicuous, but staring at the neck already implies intimacy: it could be the site of hickeys given later on or breath could snake down it as secrets were passed between the couple. It’s a bodysite that tends to go unnoticed, but here even the streaming sunlight reaches the you more than the speaker can. Because of this, the speaker’s longing to be the warmth spread across the you is almost palpable. It’s a touch so light that we could miss it. This mirrors Mitski’s voice feels only a few touches above a murmur, leading me to feel that I’m more eavesdropping than anything.

The gaze continues, but it’s moved beyond the speaker now: “But with everybody watching us, / our every move, / we do have reputations.” What undue pressure in having to worry about what an audience will think on top of untangling feelings for someone, but it comes up all too often. There are many iterations of ourselves in the world, yet we bow to one in any given moment, and it’s usually the one that will keep us safest in whatever company we find ourselves. If being with your partner in private allows you to be your Freest Self™, it’s hard to come out of that space and resume a standoffish front in public. Navigating just how much you let slip can be the worst kind of tightrope.

We end on some of my favorite lyrics ever: “If you would let me give you pinky promise kisses / then I wouldn't have to scream your name / atop of every roof in the city of my heart.” Pinky-promise-kisses feel so sweet that I almost have a toothache. The intention of loving someone is made physical, and also implies many little moments of pleasure between them. Though there are many roofs in this heart-city, how much space they have or what they overlook matters little. Their height is interesting insofar as it would change the sound of the name, and I’m listening for the permutations of that scream. I’m waiting for all the shapes it could make.

Visit YouTube to watch the video.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse