Category: Sally McCallum

REVIEW: Names Disguised by Betsy Fagin


by Sally McCallum

There is something about Betsy Fagin’s poetry that snags me, that is interesting, but that I was having a hard time naming. Her recent chapbook, Names Disguised, takes place in three parts that address madness, wealth, buried eggplant, urban development, modernization & overconsumption, and greed. Among other things.

The sections of the chapbook’s three parts are entitled “names disguised,” “names assume life” and “given name.” So, naming: something this book refuses to do, or rather, refuses to do simply. For if there is one thing that will strike you about Fagin’s poetry, it may be the dearth of names, or, that is, of people who may have names, anyway. This is a world of participilized verbs, of absent pronouns, where agency falls on colors or abstractions:

intrepid potentials re-try opulence,
ragged. wandering on high
which ever way tossed & turned.
without lessons of sin
or rinsing clean.
to all, this love gushed
forth as from a fountain,
and to all the wings of hearing,
swift thanks. thanks a lot.

So that the world we enter seems strangely inhabited by mostly actions and nearly no agents. And yet – that last line, that last interjection. “swift thanks. thanks a lot.” Some one’s voice cuts through the remote country and makes it all real again. This effect occurs again and again:

anyone who was offered
that invitation
eschewed faith. fell,
grated, upon
a new delicacy.
shadows, gentlemen,
messengers of fidelity –
just when things were
getting started.

Do you see what I mean? Despite the elevated tone and sometimes abstract tendency of these poems, they are spoken by a gritty, grounded and deeply critical voice. These are thoroughly political poems.

gently boiled
fidelity is the ambassador of mind –
violent tearing
at a ribald sense of worship:
great men enjoy,
as a dog its license,
eating at the bowl
desirous of flight.
a painful return.

Imagine a world with no people, only parts. What’s the difference between a person and a thing, a subject and an object? By the time we reach the end of the second section – which focuses on buildings – in the poem “Transition Dynamics,” we’re totally unsure of ourselves the moment we meet poem’s first line: “one day will be homegoing.”

The first section, “Names Disguised” dreams of something fantastic, a world where “licorice profanities drip, fall” and “leaves are desirous / of election.” What I liked about this section was the way that, throughout its otherworld fabric, it uses the language of political unrest. One begins to imagine that the world of forgotten castles and ragged dead ivy that arises is actually our own America.

The second section critiques our built landscape. It was maybe my favorite part. Fagin examines the overlap between urban development and labor practices and over consumption. In the three-poem series “body and building,” she discloses how the same politics of space apply at the level of the built environment and the human body. The series, I believe, exhibits a bit of hope. In the “body and building.1” the built landscape enshrines the totalizing fantasy of modern technocapital:

a shrine of reason
in an unreasonable,

confused world
rationalized the hygienic

to function as clarity
precision, codified sanitation

However, by “body and building.3” our speaker has reached an alternate vision, one that, though not precisely optimistic, does dare to dream of a world outside capital:

exterior open space,
synthetic and composite,
contains a space of social action
ambiguous dwelling places –

There’s hope in that dream, no? Even if it is a dream for “increasingly / ambiguous and lawless times.”

These are poems born of necessary scrutiny. Scrutiny of how inequality and injustice are not only obvious: how they are arranged tightly even into our dreams and furniture. It’s a weird little book, and you’ll need time to dwell with it. Take the time, though.

Names Disguised is available from Make Now

Sally McCallum lives in Tucson and studies French, Creative Writing and English at the University of Arizona. She is co-editor of the Volta Blog.


We’re happy to announce that we have two new editors helping out at The Volta Blog:

Sally McCallum lives in Tucson and studies poetry at the University of Arizona. She also has her own blog, nonsunblog.

Ivy Johnson lives in Oakland, where she is part of The Third Thing, a feminist performance group. Her book As They Fall was published by Timeless, Infinite Light in 2013.

REVIEW: The Constitution by Brian Foley


By Sally McCallum

This book begins with a self assessment. “Already we need / hay to fill / our effigies.” Already: even at its incipient moment, what constitutes of self-thing is called in to question. And even as the self grows, it recalls the ruins of what came before:

Put something
in it & leave

it to leaven.

It will rise like
the chimney
that stands

after the house.

When I was asked to review this book, I had some doubts. It is entitled The Constitution, so I thought, oh, the USA. And I have recently developed an allergic reaction to writing that takes up the task of examining national identity, really any national identity, but writing that deals with American national identity in particular – I’ve lately just been really cranky about it (I was living abroad). It seems to me such dialogs must necessarily write too many people out. For nearly any sort of person, of any sort of history, has had grounds to be defined as fundamentally American, at some point. And then saying, that very fact is what is defines America, seems too facile to me. Can’t we stop asking what is really American, I have been saying to myself.

As it turns out, this book was more or less what I needed to read. Because it’s not specifically about a nation, this nation – if you want it to be, sure, it could be, but well, only sort of – and because the task of examining any sort of identity is bound to leave us a bit desperate, a bit winded, but also exhilarated, maybe and if not hopeful than energetic.

One of the book’s epigraphs, from Ezra Pound, reads : To say many things is equal to having a home.

And this book does say many things. Broken down in to four sections, and punctuated by amendments, The Constitution is a book best read aloud to oneself precisely because it is difficult to read aloud, because the “scrib/bled” verse defies your assumptions about standard syntax and common locutions, such that as you try to pronounce these poems you’ll constantly have to amend your speech. These poems and their titles shelter jokes, bets and challenges; you’ll learn to expect to be surprised by endings to poems like “Moon Above the Law”:

like the moon
things happen

only once in

Don’t take anything for granted, not your right to a complete and conventional utterance, nor the fact that you may mold who you are, not the choice to consume what you choose, be it food or text:

every body
talks about the weather but you

know we can’t choose our food
but we can eat

an excerpt
bigger than

What is the sublimely rare and enormous antecedent that escapes these poems? I do not know, and neither, I think, does the book:

It is difficult
to value what cannot
be named

Which sets me thinking about, sorry, America again, since value is supposedly a national keyword (though, seriously, try not to think too much about America as you read. Or ever. Think precisely about what is in front of you). What is it with us and the incessant desire to define ourselves, as a people? Do all nations do that? Do even that many Americans do that, or is the interest of only a certain sort? How can I know? And how can I know whether any American identity, which you know I’m contending doesn’t exist, how can I know whether that non-existent American identity has any bearing on me, on my self, on my constitution? And why do I need to know? The Constitution tells me that “a need / is no evidence / of absence” – so perhaps then, I do know – perhaps the knowing of the self and the not-knowing are here, bound.

Have fun if you fumble over these brief lyrics. Our speaker’s voice is at times critical, at times funny and always arresting in its minimalist grace. Ask yourself as you read whether you are where you think you are. The book itself does ask this, and periodically presents “Amendments” that retrace the steps that brought us here from that strange lone chimney where we began; that question what how we continue to draw breath here:

I am under an impression

I stay alive


as the air is
previously owned

The presence of these amendments bids us to “stomach / the mistake of creation // provoked by the presence / of revision”.

And so as I say, perhaps this was the book I needed, for if I’m sick of hearing & attempting to generate and revise definitions of my own identity, then what I needed or what I wanted was to be reminded that the incessant return to the question, the incessant interrogation of identity and revision of the plan, was always already part of the self itself. I suppose. And you know? That was a poor sentence, but I am not going to rewrite it.

Already I’m filling my effigy with hay. All this speaking and writing and stuffing of tissue into shape has led us somewhere, maybe home. Here is a voice that animates uncertainty: that founds a script that writes on no thing and nothing out.

The Constitution is available from Black Ocean

Sally McCallum lives in Tucson and studies at the University of Arizona. Reading this book prompted her to revisit her roots by re-watching this, and she’s really not sure whether that was a good idea, but it was at least, strange.

The Tales by Jessica Bozek



Jessica Bozek, in her collection The Tales reveals how our desire to write a story, to tap true events for emotional resonance, comes at the peril of reality itself. Her collection’s success lies in its deployment of the absurd: it’s a disaster story about violence wrought through the whispering of stories. The Tales relates the aftermath of one nation’s military annihilation of another nation by means of a single soldier, who accomplished his mission by storytelling. As is characteristic of good weird fiction, precisely how this went down is left mostly to our imagination.

For years afterward, people talked about the first
soldier to fell a nation with bedtime stories. They
wondered if it was better to be stilled into atrocity or
surprised by it.

The collection takes the form of a series of short prose-poem “tales”, the accounts of various individuals involved in the disaster: the historian, the revisionist historian, the seismologist, the dog, along with multiple installments of the tale of the disaster’s Lone Survivor. Punctuating the tales are pages entitled “The Saving: A Fairy Tale”. Each of these offers what appears to be an alternative plot, a scenario which may have resulted in the preservation of the victim nation. “The Savings” often come from animals. The loon’s lesson is that all communication must happen underground:

Now under a funerary green, the citizens are cut off
from the surrounding lands. A loon teaches them
that they can dive down into their own small lake and
come up in another lake. The cost of this transport is
that all communication must happen underground.

Perhaps, what the loon teaches is that we must practice communication not by bangs and flashes but by burrowing deeper into the tales of our neighbors and ancestors, by refusing the temptation of the old familiar tale.

The first section of the book focuses mostly on the tales of others, on accounts of the disaster itself. The middle section, which consists of italicized and lineated text, stirs up something metatextual:

the enemy is often
a metonym

Which makes me wonder: is it that what we identify as enemy is often merely an adjunct that represents a different and larger whole… or that the figurative device of metonymy can in fact, be the enemy. An intriguing and sort of worrisome thought, given that I’m supposed to finish a degree in creative writing pretty soon here. But I’m not saying Bozek’s collection is a denunciation of figurative language or, by extension, tale-telling; just that she troubles the endeavor. From Seismologist’s Tale, we learn that only those outside of stories survive the soldier’s attack:

The leaves were thin on the trees. By the time the
soldier made his final circles, only children
who hadn’t learned the words remained awake. Without language
the felt the leaves and the leaving.

Disaster stories are attractive because they can furnish us with a morally simple universe. It’s easy, when reading or writing disaster, to reduce the history to simplistic human muck, and to get down and wallow in it. This attractiveness undoubtedly poses a dilemma for artists and architects commissioned to create war monuments. And indeed, this is what is asked of the Lone Survivor toward the end of the book – the victorious nation seeks to compensate him through means of a contract that includes a Total Replacement clause, and through the construction of a memorial to his dead compatriots. So: How do you commemorate horror without glorifying it? The Public Relations Consultant’s Tale articulates a depressing truth about many monuments: that they either bore us or thrill us, but rarely educate us:

They keep the Lone Survivor alive as a specimen. On
field trips, their children visit the New Permanent
Demonstration of the Untenable Existance of
Destroyed Peoples at the State Museum for the
Justification of Military Action. The teachers use their
pointers and speak sternly. The children yawn, but at
night and for weeks to come they wonder about the
man who lives alone on this 3.2-mile tract. The brave
ones vow to return at night.

I looked up “tale” in the OED. Its various definitions share in common a mention of the verbs “tell” and “relate” and “say”. That is, “tale” means more or less the same thing as “story” but with a stronger indication of vocal agency. The tale is not as much the sequence of events being told as the action of telling them.

What’s you point, Sally? A monument is an edifice constructed for the purpose of relating a story. The edifice is the tale we tell. But the thing that happened still happened; its remains and its survivors persist on earth. (And they almost always do. Despite the stories, destruction is rarely total). They remain, occluded by the tale of their destruction. Appropriately, the book opens not with The Historian’s Tale, but the Revisionist Historian’s Tale, and the first detail it relates about the soldier is his white museum booties. Perhaps what’s being suggested is that the persistent packaging and display of disaster in museum and memorial, in book and lesson, can make us numb to the fact that the disaster is ongoing around us. The Historian’s Tale follows the Revisionist Historian’s Tale, and is more concise:

The citizens covered their heads, sitting down to sleep.

I closed the book wondering if what we need is fewer stories, or fewer metaphors, really. Because those things make sense, but disaster doesn’t. This book is sequence marvelous tales, and of parodies of political speech and absurd bureaucratese, punctuated by the dry accounts of the Lone Survivor of his life in the aftermath. In the end, he chooses a memorial made of fabric so that it will fade. The Seamstresses’ Tale relates how they made the memorial and how it was picked apart by birds and used for their nests.

Eventually, some birds took portions for their nests.
We liked the metaphor of it.

What could be so damning as that?

The Tales is available from Les Figues Press

Sally McCallum is from Tucson and studies at the University of Arizona.

Moby K. Dick by Noel Black

Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 11.53.36 AMNoel Black’s Moby K Dick is a chapbook of poems and collage images. Each poem’s title follow the example of the collection’s name, humorously combining references to two items of culture (“Slaughterhouse 2666,” “Watchmen in the Rye,” “Journey to the End of Ulysses”). The accompanying images likewise are reproductions of paintings in which Black has pasted comic-book images cut from magazines and post cards.

Course it’s always fun to be in on a joke. So when I read this book I was pleased when I encountered poems whose titles referred to works with which I was familiar. I was distressed when I didn’t get the all the references. I then had to ask myself, do I read enough? Watch enough TV? Am I cool enough to write this review? Does it matter?

Moby K Dick stands alone as a chapbook available from Ugly Duckling Presse, but it also forms a section of Black’s book entitled Uselysses (which is also available for free download). So you’re getting the gist, here, right? This chapbook voices the exhaustion of the artist in postmodern age, the age that David Foster Wallace among others criticized for being paralyzed by superficial cynicism, by a preference for snarky self-reference and ironic posturing over honest attempts at art. By displaying the very obsession with references to cultural in-jokes that it seeks to criticize, Moby K Dick breaches the problem of how the stories we consume in turn consume us:

Uncertain, fugitive, half-fabulous, American
We took their word to determine our own

The blank insanity of Ahab, ere the white whale:
a sheet of onionskin paper blurred third or fourth carbon

And this brought about new revelations –
stolen libraries of earth spilling fiction by autorocket

Do you see that queer fashion where fluke minds the tongue
like an Android brain humming to say from beyond

“The sperm would have you forming yourself”
To all who had fused; you owe it to them

Not the less true to be recorded
in the empathy box.

It may seem that in an environment marked by such a penchant for the sort cultural insider-trading dealt with in this book, the static in the signals between transmitters muffles authenticity. And yet despite the validity of this critique, the fascinating results of Black’s pretty hilarious hybridizations also may provide the solution to the very problem they identify. Maybe Replicants do have souls?

What’s with it, this strange pleasure we find in a well-executed imitation, or a particularly appropriate mashup (sorry, the word mashup: ew)? Perhaps it’s just a matter of ego: the hipster’s pride in his familiarity with both high culture and pop culture. But it may also be that, in imagining that our essential texts possess independent lives, that they may in fact socialize amongst themselves, they attain a new reality. That is, at least, the peculiar feeling I had in reading the poem “Watchmen in the Rye” whose speaker’s split voices are those of Dr. Manhattan and Holden Caulfield:

Manhattan: I made a mistake. Some super-duper nostalgia where once
we all lived for our sentence

Boy I felt miserable – like atheist Jesus with a lot of makeup. I felt so
depressed you can’t imagine

Is there something peculiarly American about the habit of excessive self-reference that this book deals with? In addition to the first line, “Uncertain, fugitive, half-fabulous, American,” a reference to national identity appears multiple times, for example in “Frederick X-Men”:

I remember feeling the uneasiness of myself
appearing as though by magic, the unseen mutant.

My illness: America, I was much given to fantasy.
My costumed youths attacking me as a foe,

I took table with skeptics in the library, was tired,
for I am indeed one of those destined to steal

a novel of transitional thoughts dealt only in symbolic essences.
Like the great epics, our book-length thriller begins:

“I will live my life a lesser man, a poet –
a muscle-bound bookworm in the silent chamber of invisible eyes.”

The unwriting writer vigorously lathering my genitalia & yodeling
The Waste Land to protect mankind.

If Black identifies an anxious pursuit of authenticity with the American identity, he’d not be the first. But this chapbook is memorable for how it blends the deployment of a technique (anxious snark) with a critique of that same technique. Because we have here not just another disgruntled commentary on the vapidity of whatever. It’s a genuine (yeah, genuine! – and also funny) lament, not complaint and not diatribe, but sincere concern for the dwindling room for revelation between story and reader, brought on a tightening spiral of self-reference that is our meme-ridden cultural field. In the poem “A Cloud Atlas is Hard to Find,” Black writes:

Words grew ears filled with noises devoid of meaning
like sometimes a man says things he don’t mean
so I built a mound of stones for memr’y –
the only one that ever raised the dead

Does he verge on laying it on thick? I wondered whether by the last poem, “Slaughterhouse 2666,” perhaps it weren’t all becoming too clear:

Allow me to introduce no one.
No one remembers the writer.
He tore himself to pieces
for a new technique.

Then again, as I said, I’m pretty sure I’m not cool enough for this book. So you should read it and tell me if I didn’t get it.

Moby K Dick is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse

Sally McCallum is from Tucson and lives in Paris right now. She writes reviews of poetry and science fiction at nonsunblog and sews books for Spork Press.

Island by Andy Fitch


Andy Fitch’s Island (The Song Cave, 2011) resembles the transcription of a narrated walk. Our speaker is an unnamed male graduate student in CUNY’s English Department, who on April 16 traverses Manhattan from top to bottom. What we have is a stream-of-consciousness assemblage of observations and commentary one day on the island. In this regard, Fitch’s walker recalls and reformulates the Parisian flâneur, the wandering participant-observer who Baudelaire and later Benjamin identified as emblematic of 19th century Paris. To be a flâneur was to experiment idly, to be both an anthropologist and a poet. However, Fitch’s walker/talker is a new thing. His trajectory maps not just an ethnography of a place or a culture, but an exploration of speech and authorship.

The beauty of this type of text is that it doesn’t settle in any genre. It resembles both voice-notes (and thus research), and diary (and thus memoir); at the same time, the quality of the language and the construction of intrigue within the monologue recall both poetry and short story. The deal is that, being (or rather, acting like) an oral text, Island insists that words are originally oral, and that written text is translation of speech. In that regard it weaves together the artifice of the written word, and the authenticity of the spoken, in a pleasingly troublesome way.

In that previous sentence I sort of set up “artifice” and “authenticity” as contrary to one another and maybe I shouldn’t, but hear me out.

Among the multiple ways Island articulates this opposition is that it is set in New York, which is one of those cities that has the weird quality of being both real and mythological. There are only two times in my life I have managed to grok that New York is not just a setting for movies and TV shows and the news, but actually exists: first, the one time I went there, and second, when I read this book. The specificity of our narrator’s monologue is one of its most pleasing qualities: if we tried, we could probably trace his exact trajectory by the concreteness of his account:

Before 220th W ash & Lube I note [Cough] warm bright sun…A couple collectively carries their Target bag…The boy’s tattooed calves confirm the spring

Such that we are reminded that New York is full of particular, authentic details, and not just its inescapable mythological qualities. (This phenomenon is something I think a lot about these days because I recently moved to another previously mentioned mythological city, Paris.)

And it’s on this pleasing tension that the piece founds it complexity. Our narrator at one point sees someone he knows named Stephen Yosifon and tries to get his attention. The book itself is dedicated to a Stephen Yosifon, Brooklyn Law 2012. I note this in order to point out how the text appears at times be a straight-from-life recording, non-fiction; and not only non-fiction – as we’re all pleased to trouble ourselves over the distinction between fiction and non-fiction – but embodied. Corporeal and current. Actually happening, right now:

…And then there’s this (I think there could be a lot of them…but there’s this) high-rise with glassed…upper-deck condos…so now rich people can regard the park…its Loch and Lasker Pool…the Conservatory Gardens’ gates not…Holy shit I’ll have to scream…Hey Stephen! Stephen Y osifon! Stephen! Stephen…look right! Stephen Stephen! Stephen Y os-i-fon! Look to your right…Stephen Stephen Stephen! Stephen Yosifon! I really can’t believe this is hap…I’ll call him…I’ll call Stephen…Since such amazing…I’ve got to get this phone out…Stephen! Stephen Yosifon! Sorry for loud…Hey big Stephen! Stephen Stephen Yosifon! You know what…okay …Stephen’s walking to work…I should let him

So reading this work, we’re constantly asking ourselves: is this for real? Who is this guy? What is his intention in making this recording? The narrator frequently refers to the fact that this is a conscious exercise: he tests his microphone, stops and checks his reflection in shop windows to readjust it:

Discarded cardboard hovers here…a Snapple case…a Luxia electronics box…I’ll check my mic by bending down to cars’ side mirrors…quickly

and comments on his own commentary:

I’ll wait behind a woman…let’s say 65…stout…matronly…black cloth tied to the back of her head…almost a yarmulke…yet means she’s a nun…She grins…kind of laughs relating to a girl…carries the Times business section…Then I step on some sticker…and (I’m not trying to create dynamic juxtapositions) it presents an oiled couple fucking above a phone number…

And in that regard it appears to be exercise, research, experimentation, perhaps preparation, or perhaps therapy; that is, it’s an artwork that reveals the making of artwork, or, put differently, that it includes in its presentation the process of its own creation. Or it pretends to, anyway.

Because it does feel artificial – beautifully so:

Deli to their right…Cotton puffs…the summer’s first…flitting…flying up and down…so that your face can’t avoid being hit…One swift speck swoops deep in my throat…One mechanized inflatable doll I’d prefer not to describe…
A lemon slice drained of juice capsules retains skin dividing the wedges…I appreciate this geometry of the lemon…I’ve ignored…or not discussed…these men who mumble…face outwards…muttering fast about money
Who could explain its girls in tutus…pink tutus and sparkling blouses…smiling from a classic drill-team pose transformed by improv …urban…sweet ballerinas…Sun streams through our open pores

I mean when you’re just idly talking to yourself, do you talk like that – “A lemon slice drained of juice capsules”? I wish I did.

(Is talking to a microphone ever really talking to yourself, if you know that someone one day may listen to the recording?)

These utterances, despite being dispersed among ellipses and appearing off-the-cuff, are finely wrought. So as we read them, full of verbs and interesting phrasal constructions and dynamic juxtapositions (because they’re all over the place, even if he’s “not trying” to create them) we gotta ask ourselves: at what point in its process of creation did this assemblage of words become poetry? Right? We want to know: was there ever a real recording made, a real walk walked, or was the whole thing thought up by the author as he sat at his desk? Or is it a completely perfect replica of an actual act of speech by a brilliantly eloquent orator? Or was the recording really made and then embellished, worked over, by the transcriber? Just where exactly is the threshold of fiction here?

We can have fun imagining answers to these questions given details from the text. For one thing, it does include traces of the transcriber’s hand, for example:

First I’ll check this mic in a cab at this gas station…Because of wind [Cough] mic keeps blowing…I mean I’m standing on a busy subway grate


[Garbled] would expect voices rapping in staircase bathroom stalls…Great floors but the mic’s gone limp…I’ll remove this collared shirt…

A fictional or actual person had to have demarked the noise on the fictional or actual recording as [Cough] and [Garbled]. But then, not all exterior noise gets included in the italicized notes. At times, we only know of them because our narrator tell us they happened:

(I hope that song got recorded…which came from a teen locking a bike…in cut-off shorts and black sleeveless T -shirt…while an unmarked police car passed silent with sirens on)…Still I hope this kid’s music came through…because I consider “Don’t Stop Til Y ou Get Enough” the essential New York song…not for any ostensible content… those big wild Arabian chords

And so this is what I mean by the weft of artifice and authenticity: it’s more complicated that it would be in other works of fiction and non-fiction, where you’re only dealing with two consciousnesses, namely that of the author and that of the narrator. Here there is a third, a transcriber, and we do not know which side of the threshold this person occupies; we do not know exactly how they have influenced the words we read versus words that were spoken, or were imagined to be spoken. And so our transcriber, wherever and whoever he may be, is himself a narrator, another filter laid between we, the readers, and whatever truth it is that this text wants us to perceive.

To illustrate: do we ever consider, in spoken language, what makes a remark parenthetical? How does the decision to place something in parentheses change how a reader understands a transcription of speech? Or, I mean – punctuation in general – the act of punctuating a transcription is an act of interpretation, something made evident in lines like:

Couples lie together…blankets on grass…and I’ll wonder (no complaints here…just considering) if I’ve done that enough…

As I mentioned earlier, I recently moved to Paris, for the purpose of studying French literature and literary translation. What I’ve learned so far in my translation courses is that translation is mostly impossible. At least on a large scale, you can’t say the same thing in two different languages. How could you? You aren’t speaking the same words. A translator takes what they hear or read or understand, and interprets it. They filter the truth; their task is both to re-write the text and to remain loyal to it, a task which sometimes approaches paradox. Reading Fitch’s Island, I wonder whether translation and transcription might be the same task.

In French, there are two past perfect tenses. They convey the same verbal aspect but one (passé composé) is used in spoken French and in texts that approximate spoken French; it conveys a feeling of recent, mundane or quotidian truth. The other (passé simple) is reserved for formal history and fiction and never in spoken conversation; it conveys a feeling of a truth that is remote and mythological. French therefore requires a distinction between types of truth that English avoids; it makes explicit something English only suspects, which is that transcribing an oral utterance in letters may fundamentally change what it conveys. Island raises the problem of this distinction for us, with its assembly of a hybrid walker-writer-talker-type, a creature who inhabits the interstices between speech and text and transmits small stories from that space.

Download Island for free at The Song Cave

Sally McCallum is from Tucson. She writes about poetry and science fiction at nonsunblog.