IT'S A BIG WEEK for local book releases, and one that well reflects our increasingly vibrant publishing scene. In short: Publication Studio teams up with Gobshite Quarterly to release a new edition of the bilingual political literary magazine; Portland press Future Tense releases a provocative collection from a young New York-based writer; and local author James Bernard Frost uses Stumptown Coffee and tall bikes as the basis for a new Portlandian religion.
A Very Minor Prophet
by James Bernard Frost
A Very Minor Prophet release party, Missisippi Pizza Pub, 3552 N Mississippi, Thurs March 22, 7:30 pm, free
These days Portland is a brand, and everyone's cashing in. In April, Paris is hosting a "Keep Portland Weird" festival; next year, Portland Center Stage is producing a play called The People's Republic of Portland, which they asked performer Lauren Weedman to write after she visited here last year. And while I am sick approximately to death of hearing about the ways that Portland is weird, or not weird, or terrible, or not terrible, the newest entry into the multi-disciplinary genre of Portland navel-gazing at least attempts to synthesize our city's well-documented quirks into something that actually means something.
A Very Minor Prophet is an oversized volume from Hawthorne Books that borrows the scrapbook-y, typewritten aesthetic of zines and indie comics to tell the story of yet another grassroots movement born in Portland. But author James Bernard Frost isn't talking about hand-crocheted tree-warmers or wallets made of duct tape—he's talking about religion. Prophet stars a tall-bike riding midget who preaches a hipster-friendly version of the gospel; he offers Stumptown coffee for communion and the body of Christ is provided by Voodoo Doughnut. Prophet is ostensibly written by the barista who serves as the midget's scribe; baristas being baristas, there's a fair amount of drunken carousing and lusting after cute bike messengers thrown into the mix.
If it all sounds a bit much... well, it is. Mercifully, though, James Bernard Frost is a solid, often funny writer, and I was never quite as annoyed as I expected to be by his bike-riding, coffee-shop loitering characters. But can we maybe start obsessing over some other city for a while? Like Baltimore. I hear Baltimore's nice. AH
Gobshite Quarterly Release Party w/Shannon Wheeler, Richard Melo, Michael Shay; Publication Studio, 717 SW Ankeny, Fri March 23, 7 pm, free
Gobshite Quarterly is a political literary magazine that dubs itself "Your Rosetta Stone for the New World Order." The journal—which began in 2003—delivers thoughtful, interesting work, and indeed some of its most appealing assets are the bilingual pieces printed side by side in their original language and translation.
Gobshite returns to print this month after long hiatus; issue 12 is a multi-national smorgasbord featuring work from Argentina, Denmark, Poland, Russia, and the US, including several pieces from Oregon.
Local contributors include Katherine Dunn, who writes about the true meaning of the word "fuck," and Shannon Wheeler, who shares cartoons and sketches from a visit to Zucotti Park during the peak of Occupy Wall Street last year. Wheeler's simple and humane observations from the protest tell a story of a community spawned from collaboration and resistance, and it is easily one of the more tolerable dispatches to emerge from last fall. Lidia Yuknavitch contributes an excerpt about a celebrity in a rehab center which, like most excerpts, promises a lot (the novel is coming, I'm sure).
The issue—which comes with a cover hand-printed by local print-on-demand house Publication Studio—runs 100 pages but sacrifices depth for brevity. It's not a bad thing. The tone is proudly liberal with a few polite nods to the other side, and any touch of pretension is far outshined by the quality of the work. JACOB SCHRAER
Legs Get Led Astray
by Chloe Caldwell (Future Tense)
Legs Get Led Astray reading with Aaron Gilbreth, Meg Worden; Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta, Sun March 25, 7 pm, free, 21+
There are essays in Legs Get Led Astray that made me want to throw the book across the room.
Chloe Caldwell's debut—just out from local publisher Future Tense—is full of stories of being young and confused; young and fucked up; young and regretful. At this collection's worst, Caldwell's fascination with the ups and downs of her own life feels cramped and self-aggrandizing, and it's easy to be irked by a tone that veers into too cool for school. In an otherwise solid essay about finding herself homeless in Brooklyn, Caldwell writes, "I uncharacteristically went to a Starbucks down the street." Caldwell is trying to tell us she is the kind of person who doesn't go to Starbucks; what she is actually telling us is that she is the kind of person who thinks of herself as someone who doesn't go to Starbucks. My copy of the book almost hit the wall right there.
But even if it had, I'd have picked it back up again—because as annoyed as I was at times by how enamored Caldwell is with her own edginess, I was equally compelled by the way she relentlessly ferrets out the truths of her relationships. A piece about going to an orgy with her best friend was one of my favorites; the language is direct, the details well-placed (she and her friend wore footie pajamas with ducks and dinosaurs on them, respectively), and a framing device that equated sex acts completed to calories consumed was funny and honest.
Caldwell relies heavily on repetition to structure these pieces; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. A piece called "Nightbird" is framed as a series of questions posed to a former lover: "Do you remember telling me that being with me fucked with your nervous system?" "Remember when we had sex and I pretended you were James Frey?" A whole relationship is revealed in this singsongy interrogation—and then Caldwell tanks the whole thing in the last two lines. "It's okay if you forgot. We were smoking a ton of weed."
Legs Get Led Astray is at its best when Caldwell isn't playing it cool; when she's riffing instead on boys she has loved or songs she listens to while she masturbates; on the kid she babysits for, or how she used to compulsively read her mom's journal. There's a lot of good stuff in this collection, and a lot of promise, too; you've just got to wade through some self-indulgence to get there. AH