Vastarien, Literary Journal: Vol. 4 No. 1



Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

My previous reviews of this journal:

Work by Romana Lockwood, Simon Strantzas, Christina Ladd, Shawn Chang, Amelia Gorman, Vajra Chandrasekera, Nelson Stanley, S.R. Mandel, Frank Oreto, E. F. Schraeder, Shenoa Carroll-Bradd, Liam O’Brien, N.R. Lambert, Denis Moreau, Michelle Muenzler, Samuel M. Moss, Tobias Reckermann, Michael Uhall, Erica Ruppert, Michael Canfield, DeAnna Knippling, Kurt Newton, Kristin Peterson, LH Michael, Matt Neil Hill, Rhiannon Rasmussen.

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

41 thoughts on “Vastarien, Literary Journal: Vol. 4 No. 1

  1. Tenebrous Ramblings
    by Romana Lockwood

    This is a remarkably well-written and chilling vignette, as told by an elderly lady about what is summoned by her pet cat from a cobwebby place below her house, a place she, the lady, is no longer able to visit.
    All told to rescue me or you from reading another languid book, and reading the many creatures as poky creatives who now have been summoned to populate this book instead?

  2. Vertices
    Simon Strantzas

    A strangely unsatisfying story, for me, about a young woman called Nori, her sister and her parents, particularly her mother, and the latter’s house where she lived as a child, a house the family now need to deal with as the grandparents have just died. It is attritional enough to recount the general plot in this review and the unlikely outcome about how Nori is somehow forced back to this house where there is a thrum and a subsuming triangle in one room, making her feel herself to be a non-Nori, I think.
    This reading experience made me feel like a non-me!

    My many previous reviews of this author:

  3. From Nori to Midori…

    You Eat What You Are
    Christina Ladd

    “She had never tasted luster and nacre and iridescence, but there was no doubting that this was it.”

    This is a most constructively chilling and deadpan treatment of what I take (perhaps wrongly) to be the symptoms of anorexia, symptoms in a girl called Midori, and if I tell you more about the story and its various stages of (d)evolution, I would destroy the work’s undoubted stand-alone power, a ghostly power and otherwise. And such power indeed radiates back and forth between the previous story above and this one, and such a process now fills the previous one with a power that I had possibly missed when first reading it. It is as if these two stories colluded on such a gestalt between them. Though I know in my heart they did not collude. Yet this book’s editor probably realised what he was doing when placing these discrete works together near the beginning.

  4. There follows a non-fiction article….

    “Her Chill, Shuttered Room”: Patriarchal Oppression on Female Agency in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the ­House of Love”
    Shawn Chang

  5. Science Explains why
    Saturn Ate his Children
    Amelia Gorman

    A successfully experimental poem that also happens to have a significant synergy with the eating in this book’s previous story above.

  6. “I’m happy for to see you home, 
    Hurroo! hurroo! 
    I’m happy for to see you home, 
    Hurroo! hurroo! 
    I’m happy for to see you home, 
    All from the Island of Sulloon; 
    So low in flesh, so high in bone; 
    Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!”
    — from an Irish Folk Song

    So Low in Flesh, So High in Bone
    Vajra Chandrasekera

    “The camera crews are careful to focus only on the stage and the statue, not the rubble.”

    “The name his parents gave him was John. He never called them by name in the brief childhood that he spent with them. Some of his siblings had English names too—it was a common tendency in colonial times.”

    A thoughtful and eventually embalmed tale about a land I know not but can now truly believe in, a tale of transplanted villagers and mock-‘restored’ temples, as transplantable as an asathu tree can be transplanted or as an ironwood tree (in this Power book I happen fortuitously to be simultaneously reading HERE) — and a communist uprising, and a naive monk called Silananda / John(ny?) gets rescued from his torture for being alleged as a mock-monk into his own eternity of clayey and eyeless embalming — and like the character in the anorexic story above, he once forwent his evening meal for sacred reasons of monkish duty, while his mentor monk ate his with impunity!
    A story about politics and faith in the hierarchy of truth, there being two levels of truth here — ‘alternate truths’ for our times of post-Trump and Twitter trends like #BorisTheLiar?
    A tale of complex satisfying meaning as wrung from the flayed flesh and crunched bone of words.

    “Perhaps, he thinks, he should become a forest monk, living free of worldly entanglements and authentically meditating on grand truths without any distractions.”

    My previous reviews of this author:

    Black Light
    Nelson Stanley

    vantablack oblivion”

    From Nori, Midori and this book’s other self-eating so far, we reach what I consider to be the ‘enteral feeding’ of literature, something utterly untouchable. Indigestible. Noxious. Knotted Ligottianly as boxers’ gloves are on our fists in our fight against almighty pain and the subsuming by ironically soft but black stars.

    “cancer hollowed him out from inside”

    From the sludge of chemo drugs via the Human Windmill to a woman shouting “Get your filthy hands off my pelmets!”, this work is literally unreadable, but not because it is rubbish but because it is somehow TOO word-perfect in its summonings.

  8. 057EEE24-2300-4FD6-9A64-103452EDB792

    by Artemisia Gentileschi

    A Martyrology For
    Ekphrastic Tales of Horror; or, Admonitions for the Unwary
    Collated under the supervision of S.R. Mandel, curator.

    A generously footnoted and graphically word-decorated document about…
    The Committee for Nocturnal Safety of the Manifestations Office

    “…if we knew the story-set that engendered them. Indeed, anthropologists believe such a structure must exist—a contextualizing, unifying theory within whose framework the Saints, for all their bizarre appearance and apparently arbitrary behavior, would make ecological, ontological, and moral sense.”

    This document represents a delightfully darksome array of five Saints as manifestations for Saint-hunters that my wilder processes of gestalt real-time reviewing are designed for! As presaged by the above quotation from it — and by one of these saints (Denis) being a cephalophore, a fact that somehow seems in tune with mention of paintings by Gentileschi.

    Each of the five saints is portrayed in this document and a ‘hazard level’ explicitly given or implied. And the other four are…

    Stephen of the stones (you must read the description of these Saint manifestations for yourself!)

    In Lucy’s case, she carries her eyes on a plate.

    And Bartholomew carries his own skin, a fact that Aickman mentioned in the same story as a main male character apparently fancying a pre-pubescent girl!

    “In her initial form, Agnes appears as a little girl of about twelve years old. She skips merrily through the galleries, with her hair long and loose, and a pet lamb follows at her heels…”

    Aptly, Agnes, in the circumstances is justly said to be the most dangerous (retributive?) saint of them all…!

    Also, aptly, I very recently reviewed the Aickman story in question, as follows…

    THE CICERONES by Robert Aickman
    “Men were beginning to wait, one might say, for the year finally to die.”
    A deceptively slow journey through a Belgian cathedral by an Englishman called Trant, deceptive because he entered it just before they closed, and he needed to rush to get round before it did. Yet, his watch and thus time itself seems to stop […] with the same sense of pent-up time that often pervades Aickman’s Fontana series. A story that is stiflingly clammy with religion and terrifying, as we are led along with Trant, taken through increasingly morbid artworks or domains, one by one (including a depiction of a ‘Martyrdom’, […] taken into deepening levels of crypt, first guided by young men, then a choir boy, finally by another boy who may be a girl for whom — we sense, by some of the hints — Trant feels an attraction, as he goes willingly into darker places with ‘it’. […]
    Only a Truant can carry its own skin?
    The twelves strokes of the hour took a surprisingly long time to complete.”

    …an Aickman story which now seems to be in mutual synergy with this quite different and wonderful Mandel work.

  9. The Perceptual Inconstancy of Enid Wozniak
    Frank Oreto

    “We feel awe or dread, but the reason why is too complex to understand. We just know it’s important.”

    I found this most inspiring to my cause of ‘gestalt real-time reviewing’ and my own perhaps pretentious avant garde past — and life-affirming, too, for me at a difficult time.

    But that is a rather self-centred reason for relishing this reading experience, and the work has indeed value in its own literary terms as well as in those of this book’s overall context and ethos…

    This is the strikingly couched story of Finn who is an agent for outsider artists. Olfactory mosaics, for example, perhaps ideal for the character in the Christina Ladd story?

    And now the installations of Enid Wozniak, involving ant farms and other props, gearing to numerology as well as dark and light. Helping the spectator become part of the art, as well as the art co-opting the universe itself, almost paradoxically through devices of the artist’s self-centred pain in extremis!

    As if we, almost without intention, help create the art itself. The book itself.

    The term “peceptual inconstancy” has become my wheelhouse, too…

    “Revealing not just a pattern but meaning.”

  10. Pingback: Oreto and Power | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  11. Attend, Attend
    Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

    “Here in the sinking city, we know all that matters is the masquerade. All that separates us from the animals.”

    Bravo! – a beautifully tactile poetic-prose essay on masks as a means to uphold identity as a human rather than succumb to what we really are. Venice as a new scenario for our times.

    But then the corvids start to wear masks….

  12. Bagley’s Correction
    Liam O’Brien

    “It was this memory, from over a decade earlier, that had come to Bagley’s mind after he’d hung up.”

    Hung up, and a memory of a hangover, a joke or some nonsense about a hangover, and a suicide of a fellow student in the past. Now in Bagley’s assumed middle age with an understanding wife and a reasonable job in Melbourne, he needs to travel to a Ligottian town with factories called Myara. I wonder if his wife’s name was Mary. I forget, as I often do. That’s why I started real-time reviewing books in public, as a sort of self shriving. Anyway… “He cursed Derwent, first for moving to Myara, then for dying.” For his having to travel to Myara , no, needing somehow to travel, for the funeral without his wife. And this accomplished plain-spoken story, if a story it is (“It’s almost like someone describing your own dreams to you.”), one with no nonsense, or do I mean no new nonsense? Bagley has become a poet, but is that only in hindsight? Myara’s new poet Lincoln Newcombe sort of induces Bagley — Bagley as main protagonist if not reliable or unreliable narrator — to play with omniscience in an interesting way, as if we readers don’t matter, and surely we don’t! Resisted omniscience till now the author hand signalling something that we all should know… “He had never told Rachel that he was a member, but only because it was barely worth mentioning.” (Ah Rachel, was her name!) But a member of what group? And what happens now? Another hangover, is all that I shall tell you, for fear of spoilers, otherwise. And of more men with hand signals coming to get you… “Lewis began chanting, his eyes closed, and his arms crossed over his chest.” Followed, on flicking over to the next page, with a very effective blank suddenly appearing in my epub version of this book. As a sort of correction. Or culmination. Blanks turn me on, as many of you know.

  13. A Nightmare Stay, I Wish I Could Give This Negative Stars
    N.R. Lambert

    “At least the rat made eye contact!”

    A deliciously ominous, if unfinished, real-time review, being uploaded to its poor WiFi, of this hotel even while still staying here, just to get attention to what horrific service is being suffered! And somehow I, too, seem to be caught up in this effort … my own granting of stars poised akimbo…

    Not the only Des with skin in this game at Despeaux House Hotel, I guess.

    “Yet, here I am, at least an hour later, drafting this review….”

  14. There follows an admirably academic article on Borges with footnotes and bibliography …

    “The House of Asterion” : death of a solipsistic
    Minotaur, apotheosis of a metaphysical monster
    Denis Moreau

  15. imageThere follow two excellent poems by Michelle Muenzler, the first of which somehow helps me with my own process of gestalt real-time reviewing… 🙂
    “There is no end to them really; they multiply so easily,
    take root in any soil; in each other.
    The only limit is you
    and your appetite
    and your willingness to work.”

  16. The Sculptor
    Samuel M. Moss

    “Yes, it was like a scream, but like no scream you had heard before.”

    A story that makes you want to scream a scream you have not heard before! And, indeed that is how it turned out to be. A strangely disarming story, where, deadpan, we are induced to become paragraph-blocks with sporadic dialogue, accepting what we are told by the capitalised Fanatic and the elusive Sculptor; a glimpse of a piece of the latter’s work changed the Fanatic’s life — and also the Journalist asked by the Sculptor, for whatever reason, to interview himself the Sculptor, and the dreams the Journalist then negotiates, if dreams they were, of a downtrodden place of abode, later a bigger house, then a forest, till reaching the Sculptor who here explains his Art, Creation as Blasphemy, and the Version of the Scream, eventually, elicited from the Journalist, and by what dire means.
    I am embedded, I feel, for an eternity, in an as-if-it-were-meant-to-be ‘ready-made’ by Marcel Duchamp or by the artist in another work of fiction entitled The Burnt-Orange Heresy
    And this Moss work has just attritionally induced me to punctuate its ending with my own version of a scream, too! — and to feel as if I were meant to read both these fiction works — one relatively recently and the other today — so that I could join their combined dots of Life’s Meaning together, by my now Fanatically erasing (like a “rot-mouthed idiot”) such ‘voluminous’ dots ab initio!
    Time munched into by Illusion.

    “The Journalist nodded.
    The Sculptor shrugged.”

    My previous review of this author –

  17. Machina Obscura
    Tobias Reckermann, translated by Amy Turner

    “The iris around each filled-in hole was not an iris. The eyes had been painted on white skin, around pupils like sphincters clenched into fists.”

    A truly reader-infiltrating exercise in the textured apotheosis of words (with no escape even where these words are translated) as a portrait of a man called 𝕭𝕷𝕬𝕹𝕶 (BLANK) who relishes, along with his boss at work, dark or weird things on the web, the dark web et al.
    Where our reality and dream infiltrate each other. And much else.
    Hunted by his own heartbeat.
    This exercise is often so worryingly effective, one needs to at least think the mercy words of “witching hour” from time to time as a safeguard when one reads it.


  18. A Tyranny of Tongues
    Michael Uhall

    “A multistory complex…”

    A complex of story and essay becoming a Swiftian fable if not one of the alternate truths of our times. Surprising, even for me, to be able to witness this story from what I see as a recent plague that affected the tastes upon our tongues, and, now, affects the tongues themselves, the tongues going AWOL from our mental control and, later, from the mouths of our bodies, in an exponential Armageddon of tactilely gruesome and independent excoriations, an Apocalypse that tells us all that we need to know of our politicians’ lies, as if this fable of truth is the inevitable conclusion of that accretively insidious growth or outgrowth, “like corporeal and voracious remainders of the darkness preceding God’s first words.” The Logos of the Bible and what is said of it there.
    Our bodies now old pets left behind, a “nameless aggregation of muted desires and sharp, intrusive fears.” All of us becoming Congregants or Supplicants in the terms of this story, Slaves of the News. Till we reach the stage of “experimental variants”.
    I cannot stress enough the power of some of the words themselves used in this document. Tongues used as horror monsters for a horror story.
    But, yes , ‘document’ is the right word, not story, and now I really wish to go back to the beginning of this review and erase, ab initio, the word ‘story’ — a document hopefully written before the Tyranny of Tongues affected also what we wrote as opposed to what we spoke. Or was it, indeed, is it, too late already?
    Only the sun can taste our tongues now?

    My previous reviews of this author:

  19. The Grave of Angels
    Erica Ruppert

    “She had become almost Victorian under her illness’s weight, washed out and slender to the point of consumption. Yet her will to return to Holyoke was strong.”

    Corra’s husband is the narrator. And he has taken her back to die — back to her home community where traditions of death prevail in a family crypt of tombs, a place like an ever-deepening cave system. And despite Corra’s wishes to be cremated and her ashes scattered at sea, she is taken down there body and soul, and there is some inevitability to this kingdom of death…and the narrator and us teetering on its real or metaphorical edge. All described in the accomplished traditional fashion of eschatologically horrific fiction that we grew up with (even in middle and later life when death started to suck us down stronger and deeper). But here we also have the added frisson of a Cave System Mythos to which my thoughts of reading happened to be referenced, on yesterday’s date HERE, before reading this story’s
    “It was all there, scattered like fossil bones, fragmentary, incomplete, but clear enough. Clear enough.
    The urge to burrow deep into the belly of the earth has been with us as long as we have been human.”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  20. The Main Street Robbery
    Michael Canfield

    ‘“Words, words, words.”
    Hoff nodded. “Gertrude Stein.”’

    This is one helluva piece. Genuinely. Seriously. Outwith any passing passions of the reading moment.
    Inspired me to the core, but I still don’t know why – maybe because of its intrinsic “non-truth” at the end. I don’t want to be fired or even shot dead by one of this work’s “bosses” after all, say, by my possibly issuing any spoilers. Although some may slip out below. Certainly hope not. But I am often wrong, if not wrong always. Whatever my legacy.
    A scenario where a group of well-characterised men is working for bosses in a firm of rip-offs, bank robberies and muggings. Men with different degrees or pay levels of middle between CEO and ‘street grunt’ or back-end working, with performance reviews, holiday pay and sickness, unless I forget, all of them temps with the ambition of permanent hire – a firm with a mission statement about guidelines and commons sense and with bosses the nature of which or of whom gradually dawns on us with some trepidation, especially as we know already that we are reading this within the covers of Vastarien. The bosses could become classics of literature and I shall leave it to you to read the various descriptions of them.
    A basic story here of one man’s nifty wheeze following a bank robbery of hiring the working day’s other robbery victims to compensate their bad day in being robbed by their later being paid to ‘distress’ brand new sheaves of banknotes so as to help launder them. Loved it!
    It rose and rose above the common levels.

    “People came, and they quit or were killed. No one left a legacy.”

  21. Pingback: Words, Words, Words | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  22. The Woman Who Was Seen
    DeAnna Knipling

    An intriguing monologue of a woman created by a mother who did not want to bear babies physically — or self-created in the image of her mother or her mother’s image of her, their adumbrated sketches as the ephemeral portraits embodied in these words by dream or reality, with their sought plainness vulnerable to erasure as well as closure of such too few pages. Or susceptible to hairdressers who wanted to change them (or her) because they thought they (she) wanted it.

    My previous review of this author:

  23. The Spring Burn
    Kurt Newton

    “Her dark hair, gray-removed, appeared recently permed.”

    “They were the faux mothers, the faux lovers, that wielded power through non-traditional means (traditional meaning masculine). The bond of motherhood, the pride of the motherland, even the promise of love for the lovelorn masses—all of it a feminine component through which to rally, to govern, to control.”

    …as if making inadvertent sense of the previous story and this one of that one?

    A lifetime of guilt’s catharsis of Professor Herring pans out, while writing notes, in his oh too flammable notebook, preparing a life work’s treatise on past civilisation, religion, fatherhood, motherhood, and now the world at its virtual stage…

    While narratively dealing with his recent divorce, and, with where he now stays on a sheep farm with a landlord in possible cahoots with his former wife, thus his own paranoia, the landlord’s dogs (or shall I call them straw dogs?), the nature of fire in the night-terrors of his past memories, a fascination with. matches, frustration with dog feces, the nature of nature, of civilisation, of the internet, plus old photos, wispy whispers, his spiral notebook, yes, the nature of fire and the Spring Burn and his asthma…

    “And what I see is that the world is dying. It’s dying because we no longer speak the truth. Governments operate in fear of it, and those in power cling to power through the obfuscation and manipulation of it. Society as we know it will eventually crumble under the weight of its own deceptions. if we don’t act. If we don’t admit our weaknesses and let our conscience, at last, be free”

    Above are words that we need to learn by heart.

    And so I end with Herring’s own burnt words as somehow preserved by this tract…

    “And, whether it was plague or unwanted competition, fire purged all sins.”

    But then further thoughts….
    And not only carbon dating but carbon footprints? —

    “Occasionally in the spring, a farmer would set fire to a field before planting to rid the acreage of excess weeds and introduce carbon, a natural nutrient, back into the tilled soil.”

    Further thoughts will no doubt come, as time passes.

    My previous review of this author:

  24. End of the Milky Way
     Kristin Peterson

    “When I reach a state of ecstasy, buoyed by the hands of angels who push me up to the heavens, throngs of devils attack me from above, while the angels below also show me their true nature as devils.”

    Those who indulge in the sheer hedonism of words and their texture and meaning and syntax will simply adore this eschatological account of a woman’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela involving her baggage of memories (most of them searingly bad but some visionary and with perceived love) and the ongoing baggage, too, of her gorily ailing body and what was once within that body. Involving, too, the legends as backdrop to this destination of her pilgrimage as a stranger, like all of us, on Earth and beyond.

  25. Floaters
    LH Michael

    “Imagine a rope leading up to the sky, a rope with acupuncture needles growing out of it, like a cactus.”

    A rope to nothingness. Yet , for me, with the needles become ligotti!
    Le Noeud HERE.

    “He wondered if there were such things as meditation hangovers.”

    “He tried summoning the rope, but it didn’t show.”

    “A rope had descended from the ambulance’s ceiling.”

    A nightmare knot of the bodily senses as the neuro-diverse protagonist is treated by a quack “metaphysical psychiatrist”… including stars as floaters. All my own floaters look like knots not stars. No wonder my own story hangover involved its multiple references to rope!

    “a sweater so knotty”

  26. Only Business
    Matt Neil Hill

    “…to work out the knots.”

    “Better for all concerned that he didn’t know the exact location of the factory. Ignorance was protection.

    Another classic – and I am now in serious danger of being strung up for over-praise in my reviewing job! This Ligottian Corporate Horror work-of-works is truly word-braincobulating! An espionage-paranoia of this firm’s ‘heads’ — bosses so wonderfully in resonance with Uhall’s ‘bosses’ — in a firm running a Kafkaesque factory, a firm that issues pre-smart phones to its department managers and drives them home in special blacked-out cars, and has department meetings with art installation displays for divination and foretelling, and issuing masks like the du Maurier Blue Lenses ones for these managers. And their workforce, well, just one example…

    “Eighty men and women were bent over glistening conveyor belts and dwarfed by hulking, heat-haze machinery, nimble fingers sifting through junk that this week looked like beetle carapaces and whale livers mixed with pre-war radio valves.”

    One day, the divination-display array that our protagonist department manager sees earlier in the day – with some objects or ready-makes you will love reading about – is later missing three of those objects, one of which is “a tiny hank of brown hair bearing three knots,…”

    When the denouement comes — his car home having crashed – what he sees outside it will literally take your breath away with spectacular visionary scenes so fitting for Vastarien.

    The clincher is what the heads use rope for at the very end.

  27. From the previous story with its own installation of ready-mades, we now have this book’s fitting ironic coda (in “undoubtedly important” Damien Hirst’s executive office with built in vitrines, but not by him or even beside him?) …

    Rhiannon Rasmussen

    “They are both carefully bisected along the spine.”

    “Is it so unexpected to admire and install what surrounds you that it must be called art? To use a body in art; is that readymade, […]?”

    Except it was never thus exhibited? This book never reaching its rightful readers until the jigsaw is clinched, sliver by sliver? Hoping this review does that very thing for the book in gestalt!
    The author should know, as it is their installation, I guess. The bisected organs of its horse and rider perfectly undamaged. Allowing the cross-section to uncross.
    A fine ending to this book with this work’s words transported by means of semantic meanings and graphical look of configured letters and structural stringing together and phonetic sound when read aloud…

    The actual optimal-pessimal visuals in this whole darkly fiction-coruscating and nonfictional journal are similarly bi- or even multi-sectioning the bookshape that contains them, not despite but because of some of its words speaking of humanity’s wounds mostly ragged become ultra-neatly carved.


  28. Pingback: Eternity Achieved | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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