Monday, March 3, 2014

Don't Talk To Me About Love

Three weeks ago, I received an email from someone who used to be one of my best friends. Last year it turned into this story that ended with me walking around town, smearing the paint of a strange wall or a glass pane with my tears; me sitting at the edge of the bed, not wanting to live the next day. Long before his note arrived, I'd swept the dust and disposed it into a vacuum.

It was a sincere effort from my friend who wished to apologize and to rebuild our friendship -- which, to this day, I consider one of the best things that have ever happened in my life. We had the same creative impetus; we inspired each other on both artistic and personal levels. Over the course of eight years, he had made some genuine displays of his understanding of and affection for me -- as a friend, as a lover, in person or over the distance, even after our relationship had collapsed and I'd stayed away for a long while. After letting it sit for a week, I wrote back to say that I did recognize and cherish how rare it is for anyone to meet someone who has real feeling for them, and makes an effort to show it in difficult circumstances.

For that reason, I imagine I'd reconnect with him one day but not at this moment -- there's too much unfolding in my life for me to open up to anyone who I've held at bay. Although I still hear his voice as the voice of a friend I held dear, I see a blur -- the ashes our story burnt down to -- when I think of him. In time even that blur would vanish.


I have about zero patience for things unfolding; I want to jump ship when I can't see it reaching the shore in what I consider a reasonable time frame, which is often unreasonably short for others. When I step out of the illusion of time, I have wells of understanding and patience for people. I'd give as much as I can in relation to the situation/the other(s), and in relation to myself until I'm about to press my cheek against the table and feel this crack running down my chest... and I don't. I sit up, put the pieces of myself back together; I love until it's muted by the wind I can't call to or whirl my fingers around... and then I leave.

One day someone will show me another way to live. Or to take a different turn on this path.

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year. With the Dead

For me, the new year starts 11 January, the day after the anniversary of my aunt's death. Patricia died of cancer at 48 on 10 January 2012. She was my father's youngest sister -- I lived with her for some years during my childhood, so she was one of my parents. I took care of her at the hospital before she passed away. I've only mentioned her once on this blog ever since. Unlike her twin sister and a few others in my family who visit her grave or keep her photo in their lounge room, I've never gone out of my way to connect with the memories of her. I try to see the dead as who they are -- autonomous presences that the living shouldn't fall back on, out of their own weakness.

I became someone else, or I started living another life after Patricia died. During the first year of her vanishing, I looked forward to the anniversary of her death. I probably spent my Christmas and New Year's holidays anticipating the day. When the day arrived, I was thrilled, like I was to celebrate having survived a bad accident one year after it happened.

This December my feelings about her death have taken a different turn. I suspected it'd be harder than last year -- we're often caught off-guard when the banality of a traumatic event sets in -- though I didn't imagine the reality of it. I've been feeling the same distress, grief and guilt -- to a lesser degree -- that I experienced during her final days with us. Every day, for a moment, I feel like I should be going to the hospital -- I see her and our suffering all over again. 


During Patricia's last days, I worked on a flash story -- the last piece of fiction I ever wrote -- about a woman who metamorphoses into a dead bird on the street when she's finally found by her lover. It was published in Lost in Thought, a print magazine based out of Canada. Writing that story - image by image, line by line, 390 words in around 10 days -- gave me the grounding I needed. Last Christmas and New Year I was hanging out with people, though I started the series of poems that are now published in my chapbook. I was writing.

This year I haven't had such time to myself. For about four months I worked non-stop. Even though I've got some room to breathe in the past couple weeks, I wrote one poem and I had nothing more to give. This pushes me straight into melancholy. People I recently got to know, people I should meet, things I should reach out to and be happily engaged in... all is a blur to me. 

My new year's resolution -- I haven't had one in years -- is simply to change the way I spend my days.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stone Bride Madrigals

Pleased to announce the release of my poetry chapbook, Stone Bride Madrigals, published by corrupt press (Paris). Special thanks to editor Dylan Harris. Love to David Heg for the cover art. See more of David's photography, excerpts from my poems and my video readings here

On a snowy write in Brooklyn, I met the statue who was to appear in many of the poems I'd go on to write -- it was the moment I started writing poetry. My statue walked through all kinds of disintegration. Sometimes she saw death. These poems are her songs. 

US$ 8 (shipping included). Order your signed copy here:

Stone Bride Madrigals, what a lion with terror. What a white blanket baptism in a dreamy kind of rain. What Nicolette has done here is capture the sounds of colors--textures slashed across landscapes, illuminating the bodies and minds of the collection's inhabitants for the disintegrating matter that they are. They have choked a hole, goes the tangle of her text. They have choked a hole

--David Tomaloff, author of SLEEP (Plain Wrap Press)

In this spellbinding collection, Nicolette embraces and forsakes, while conjuring poignant allegories of loss and decay to configure an "atlas of wounds". In the process, beings morph into urban landscapes, and real or imaginary transgressions become flesh. Reconstructed as a dark, elegant origami of a million facets, her work fits into the palm of the beguiled reader, indestructible, never to leave. A true phenomenon of contemporary poetry!

--Mia Avramut, Associate Poetry Editor at Connotations Press

With the authority of heightened emotion, Nicolette's powerfully paced juxtapositions send familiar grammar scurrying to sulk in the face of her haunting imagery on the edge of consciousness. New verbs have taken over, and Nicolette tells them where to go: they go to you. They go to the part of you regular old verbs couldn't reach. You are no longer safe. Thank goodness.

--Tantra Bensko, author of Lucid Membrane 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blood A Cold Blue - Conversation with James Claffey

Get your copy of Blood a Cold Blue here.

Nicolette: I see your characters (esp. the narrators) drift in and out of ruins a lot. How did you tread that fine line yourself when you were writing these stories? 

James: I’m not sure I trod the fine line in the writing of the stories, as the voice of each comes from a place of unknowing, of subconsciousness. Ruin and its avoidance were part of my experience growing up in Dublin. My father lost the family business when I was a small boy, and that experience shaped him as a person for the rest of his life. We’d drive past the place every summer on the way to the West of Ireland on our holidays and he would curse, become morose, and bemoan the loss of what had been a life of some privilege. After 
that loss he worked to support his young family, a lot of sacrafice, a great deal of pride. From those memories, from the struggles my parents went through, I saw the shadow of ruin on our house and it has stayed with me to this day. Also, I’m captivated by the dichotomy between survival and disaster, the gust of fortune that might consign a character one way or the other. I find much to explore in flawed characters and don’t for the most part write about happy, positive people. Strugglers are much more interesting, don’t you think?

Nicolette: Your portrayal of these strugglers is so visceral, too. "My teeth chatter from the cold, the edge of my left eye twitches faster than my heartbeat, and there's a hollow feeling in the roof of my mouth...I knew she was dead from the way her neck angled, the pale skin, her cigarettes on the ground beside her--Marlboro Lites--and me having told her over and over that smoking kills." ("The Way Her Neck Angled")

Besides your memories -- which fill that place of unknowing you re-create on the page -- what else would you say inform/shape your approach to characterization? 

James: Noticing. Paying attention to the small things, the rust on a hinge, the shade of lipstick on an old woman, the shape of arthritic fingers. I fall back on the quote, "God is in the details," to explain my approach to character. For me, the particular is critical to flesh out a character, those particular quirks and traits that mark one person apart from another. As I get responses to the book I notice my writer's eye tends towards the grimness and the seediness of life. This I have to ascribe to my self-reflective manner and the darkness that comes from an Irish childhood where all about me were destroyed people hiding in corners of the Dublin streets. When I was a kid we came across tramps, tinkers, beggars, and in their faces the etched lines of hard lives must have spoken to me at a deep level. It's not that I don't embrace hope and joy and beauty, I do, but through a particular prism that contorts those things into something more problematic, more honest, more real.

Nicolette: One thing I've always loved about your writing -- the rhythm. It's a moving shadow that traces the character's emotions and it's very palpable. How do you find/relate to this music, when you write?

James: The rhythm is something I found happened when I stopped writing for the express purpose of finding an agent, getting a publishing contract, pleasing other parties and other monstrosities! A rhythm existed in my writing before all of that, but it was subverted by my own shortcomings and inadequacies, and when I gave up on the notion of pleasing others, the writing found its own voice, its own path so to speak. Some of the musicality is down to growing up in Ireland, immersion in the patterns of speech that mark our island soul, and even though I've been away now for twenty years, those important formative years when language acquisition took place cemented those Celtic rhythms and notes in my brain. As far as musicality goes I'm useless in terms of playing instruments, though I do a little tone-deaf singing when I read certain stories that contain song lines. Sometimes I listen to music when I write, mostly instrumental, some Sigur Ros, some classical, some operatic, and as background music I find it soothing, though maybe the darkness comes from the mood created by the music. 

Nicolette: Aren't you always juggling a number of writing projects? I think I've mostly read your flash fiction (and some prose-poemy pieces) so far. Are you working on anything else these days? 

James: Juggling is generous. I've fallen in and out of projects, some of which are ongoing, some lie fallow at present and I may go back to them and revive the writing. I've been working on Pure Slush's 2014 project where a story a month set on the same day reveals a world to the reader over the timeframe of one calendar year, and I recently spent three days in Big Sur at a Benedictine monastery working on a novel that Thrice Publishing will be bringing out next year. I spent the time revising the book as it stands, adding new sections to smooth transitions between chapters, and generally polishing the language to a point where I can comfortably say the book is ready for the light of day. I'd like to find a happy medium where I don't have too many projects going on, but that's probably not very likely!

Nicolette: That brings me to the question I've always wanted to ask you. How do you approach the shift from flashing to writing a novel? Whenever I read your flash fiction, I listen to the rhythm and emotions and think, "There's something he's not showing here... The bigger picture." 

James: Yes, there's a great deal "below the water" in the flash pieces, the unsaid, the unmentionable. I like to skirt the edges and give the reader these clues, hints, as to what's going on beneath. The switch to the novel is slightly more difficult in terms of creating a "whole world" situation, and making sure the whole thing has cohesiveness. I've worked hard on showing a world in the novel that encompasses the main character's hometown, and I hope it succeeds on the page. With flash it's easy to declare a piece finished and leave much unsaid, whilst with the novel there's a pull that I feel at work that makes me want to reveal the layers of the story in a more complete way. I'm anticipating the novel will stay true to the rhythm and patterns of my other writing, and that there won't be any sense of the novel "failing" in terms of voice and authenticity.

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work has appeared in the New Orleans Review, Word Riot, Metazen, Necessary Fiction, FWriction and many other places.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On A-Minor Press, Writing & Pressing My Cheek Against the Wall

In September 2013 A-Minor Press published its debut title, Cinéma Vérité, a collection of ekphrastic poems from award winning poet Sam Rasnake. Sam writes some damn fine poetry and it's a stellar collection -- check out these four poems and order a copy of the book, if you haven't done that already.

I can't tell you how I feel precisely about our work at A-Minor Press - it's a mix of dedication, excitement, pride and bewilderment. Just a few days after the official launch of Sam's book, I picked up my copy from the bookshelf, looked at the front and back covers, and re-read some of the poems. It was almost a surprise. Two years ago when I picked up A-Minor Magazine from Sheldon Lee Compton, I wanted to curate and run an online lit zine. Last year I started the press almost on a whim - with the help of my fellow editors - I wanted to publish quality writing in a different format. Now I look at the quarterly issues of the zine, our books (second title in production), everything else A-Minor on Facebook and elsewhere online...It seems to have a life of its own, and I happen to one of the folks who work hard to make it thrive. The strongest emotion I feel is gratitude - I'm truly delighted to make these books happen for a few authors because I know how much it means. That makes me happy. And the chance to work on something I love and believe in while bringing some people together.

If anyone is interested in how we work at the press: our managing editor Walter Bjorkman and art editor Eryk Wenziak contribute to the production. For that reason, I often feel like they (esp. Walter) are the ones who make the books. Walter is our housekeeper and takes care of things the rest of us can never wrap our head around. I read submissions, work with words and images, talk to people and think about some stuff. Kenny Mooney reads fiction and works with fiction writers in ways that I cannot. None of them has had to spend their time or energy getting involved, but they did, and they do, so A-Minor is what it is now. For that I'm pleased and grateful. 


My poetry chapbook, Stone Bride Madrigals, is forthcoming from corrupt press (Paris). This chap has some of my more abstract poems - think songs of disintegration - from this series I've been working on over the past year. There've been a couple extended hiatuses - travel, heartbreak, or simply an opening into another world where I write different tunes. In the two months I've been growing into a different person - a more mature phase of me. Many nights I looked at that longer manuscript, reworked half a line here and there, removed a poem, started a new one and scraped it...and wondered if I should move onto something else because, let's be honest about it, your poems reveal a lot about you. I didn't know if I still felt that disintegration - with such intensity - that I had to keep creating it on the page.

I know what the answer is. At night I press my cheek against the wall of my room when some people - those who know me from a distance or through the lens of their desire - imagine me living a ruthless and beautiful life. I press my cheek against the white paint and dream the same dreams. Only I look at them from a different distance, or string them together and pull them towards me in a more subtle way now. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Yesterday I received a handwritten note from a young mother whose daughter I work with at this community center. I started volunteering there in July - every weekday during the summer holiday, a few times a week starting from September. I work with children with mild dyslexia, trying to help them read and write. It doesn't eliminate the need for professional intervention. It's just comforting for the children to have someone who sits next to them and literally shuffles the sentences and words (I have cue cards for the very young children) with them. The children who spend their days at the community center are from relatively poor or immigrant families.

This young mother who came up to me yesterday is a waitress and she works pretty long hours. She doesn't remember my name. She just handed me this note before she picked up her 5-year-old and left. It was a brief thank-you note, saying I helped her kid and it made her feel more "grounded" about the situation which really wasn't great. This was the first time I'd received such a note during my voluntary work gigs in a long while - I've worked some gigs on and off since my late teens, a couple of them on an anonymous basis, and I rarely had any exchanges with the people I worked with outside of what we did. When I saw her again today, I just nodded.


The only thing that still carries any meaning is what I do for others, and I don't mean it in any grandiose terms. It's simply the only thing that doesn't draw a total blank for me now. When I do anything for someone else for free, or anything that yields practically no reward for me but makes someone's life easier or happier for a moment, I look at that person and imagine that glimmer of hope or warmth or comfort. And then I blank out.

Nothing else seems to matter. The publication of my chapbook (from an indie press based in Paris) is delayed because of printer issues - I don't know what's going to happen to it - and it doesn't bother me. I started writing again after a three-month hiatus - I work on it, and I don't care if it sees the light of day. I make plans with some folks because I've offered to do something for or with them, and I think people should mean what they say. I work on my paid jobs. I check out a movie I might like to see, a few tasks on my to-do-list. I think about the trip I plan to take next year. I get around to things - I just don't care if anything comes down to anything. My plans - or goals? - are devoid of emotion.

It has nothing to do with despair. I don't drink and sit on the edge of my bed thinking, "I don't want tomorrow to come." Far from it. I just don't think about tomorrow. Nothing exists.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

There're Many Kinds of Deaths

Most of the time, I'm just relieved.