Sunday, February 27, 2011

fellaheen - the darkness: a fragment

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq

when belle starr played the piano in cabin creek
the fellaheen couldn't stop crying for almost a week
the piano stood in the middle of the barroom floor
decorated with only a skull and an apple core

the wanderers lined the walls upstairs and down
and spilled out into the dusty streets of town
they leaned on the banisters and stairwells with careless ease
and sat on the floors beneath the chandeliers

the sahibs lined the bar looking grim and strange
smooth gamblers, and leathery men who rode the range
miners and rustlers and dreamers in search of gold
and wandering strangers whose tales will never be told

frank james stood behind the bar in his best white shirt
no glass or bottle behind him had a speck of dirt
the mahogany under his elbow shone cold and black
his pale blue eyes rolled the room both front and back

jesse sat alone in a corner of the room
riffling a deck of cards with an air of gloom
fat men and thin kept away from his reverie
but he was not what they had come to see

belle tipped her feathered head as she struck the keys
her red dress shimmered from her shoulders to her knees
the air was filled with a rainbow of bumblebees
that turned to drops of ice in a mountain breeze

quantrill leaned over the rail by the upstairs rooms
silent behind him like the apostles plundered tombs
his red eye drifted down in the shadows to belle
his blue eye was fixed forever in the depths of hell

beyond quantrill, in a corner of the landing
a boy in black with white buck teeth was standing
his eyes were cast straight down like coffin lids
who else could it be but billy bonney - the kid?

but nobody looked at billy, or quantrill
all eyes were on belle - they couldn't get their fill
all were as quiet as if their own selves had died
outside in the desert a lone coyote cried

one note, two notes, three notes rippled and broke
the fourth note rang like a rifle through the smoke
an arrow shot through the darkness and suddenly fell
in a waterfall racing the rocks between heaven and hell

over the waterfall diving into the moon
an almost silent half-remembered tune
frank at the bar lights up a tailor made
and jesse cuts the deck to the four of spades

quantrill is last to remove his granite gaze
the kid is a statue - and on and on she plays
when belle starr played the cabin in cabin creek
gunmen turned into clouds and could not speak

nothing lasts forever in the western night
birds walk across the desert and the stars...

for an unadorned version of the poem, click here

Saturday, February 26, 2011

clarissa the doll, part 10

by arnold schnabel

edited by professor dan leo

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

executive producer: kathleen maher

part ten of fifteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

Part Ten

I kept my left hand on Clarissa, to hold her up, but also, and primarily, to attempt to reassure her. Even I could tell that things weren’t going well between her and Elektra. I had never before been caught like this in the middle of the field of battle between two warring women, but I had read about such situations many times in my trashy paperbacks, and seen as such dramatized often on television programs such as Johnny Staccato, M Squad, and The Kraft Cheese Dramatic Showcase.

I tried to remember what courses of action or inaction the male protagonists took in these fictional contests, and I realized that no matter what the man did it seemed that someone nearly always wound up dead, sometimes more than one person, and quite often the man.

The end of the world song had faded away some little time ago and been replaced by a loud instrumental rock and roll song, and now -- seeming to roll up out of the crowd on a drum solo -- Jesus appeared by our table, smiling, and casually lighting one of his ever-present Pall Malls.

Instead of his robes he wore raffish seashore attire, an un-ironed and faded pinstriped Oxford shirt rolled up at the sleeves, and wrinkled khakis.

“Arnold, buddy! How’s it going?”

He gave me a little tap on the shoulder

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends?” he asked. “This must be the famous Elektra! How are you, babe? Arnold has told me all about you?”

“He has?” said Elektra.

She nudged me with her elbow.

“Nothing bad, believe me,” said Jesus.

I knew this was the place where I was supposed to make the introductions, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even my madness has its bounds.

Fortunately, he took over.

“I’m Josh, by the way,” he said to Elektra.

“Hello, Josh,” said Elektra.

Okay. Josh. That made it easier, certainly easier than Jesus, the Son of God. My politeness forced me to continue the farce.

“Josh,” I said, I think with a certain emphasis, to Jesus, “this is Miss Rathbone.”

She offered her hand and Jesus took it and brushed her knuckles with his lips.

“Oh my,” she said, smiling. “Do call me Charlotte, Josh.”

“I’m Steve,” said Steve, offering his hand.

“How are ya, Steve,” said Jesus, giving Steve’s pale hand a manly shake with his own tanned and strong carpenter’s hand.

“I’m Charlotte’s fiancé, by the way,” asserted Steve.

“Lucky guy.”

“Oh you,” said Steve, withdrawing his hand and waving it at Jesus.

“Larry Winchester, Josh,” said Larry, rising up slightly and reaching out his hand.

"Not Larry Winchester the film director?” said Josh, taking Larry’s hand.

“I think it be no other than e’en so,” said Larry.

“Two For Tortuga? Ask Not The Hangman? White Slave Ship? Assignment in Bangalore? The Mystery of Old York Road?”

“At your service, sir.”

Larry disengaged his hand.

“I love your movies, Mr. Winchester,” said Jesus.

“Call me Larry and sit your ass down, friend, you’re drinking on me tonight.”

“Oh, I don’t want to intrude.”

“I said sit the hell down.”


Charlotte moved in closer to Steve, and Jesus sat down across from me. He looked at Clarissa, whose head was just above the level of the table. I could see she was staring right at him.

“And who’s your little friend there, Arnold?” asked Jesus.

Once again I felt her pinch my thigh, but much harder now. It would definitely leave a mark.

“Clarissa,” I said.

“Hello, Clarissa,” said Jesus. “I’m Josh.”

She continued to pinch my thigh.

Gritting my teeth in pain, I said, “She’s very pleased to meet you -- Josh.”

Everyone at the table laughed, and Clarissa finally stopped pinching my thigh.

End of Part Ten

part 11

Thursday, February 24, 2011

“how and why with rhoda penmarq: an interview"

rhoda penmarq writes and draws very strange and wonderful stories on several blogs -- primarily “flashing by” -- and, never a dull moment, rhoda also collaborates (words and/or art) with other writers, such as Jason Gusmann, Kathleen Maher, Nooshin Azadi, and this reporter. Recently the notoriously publicity-shy rhoda graciously assented to answer some questions culled from hundreds submitted by various members of "the rhoda penmarq appreciation society":

rhoda, why do you do it? Why do you write and draw what you do and put it up on the internet?

well, it's something to do. and for about the last 2 1/2 years it's something i have had a lot of time to do. as for why i do it on the internet, i love the internet. the internet gives you complete freedom - no publishers, no editors, no teachers - just do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. of course you could always do that if you wanted to sit in your room and do it and never think about getting published - like henry darger.
but the web gives the hope or illusion that at least a few other people will see what you do. and there is a huge though not really rational difference between being read by even a few people - even one person - and nobody at all.

Just about all your work that I know of combines art and words. Why?

that evolved by being on the web. i started by adding usually one little picture - sometimes not even by myself - to anything i posted - usually a poem under one name or another, i suppose because it seemed the thing to do. and i gradually added more and more pictures because i enjoyed doing it and the pictures took over. i would say i now spend at least 90% of my time - my blogging time - on the visuals.

How did you start doing your style of art?

when i first got a microsoft pc of my own at work, it had a simple painter app - called painter or paintbrush or something - and i started doodling with it. i had always been a compulsive doodler on paper - like stalin - but this opened up whole new vistas, as they say. seriously, i had always been interested in cartooning or drawing but didn't have the patience or discipline to do it in any serious way. i mean, how are you supposed to do anything without an "undo" button?

i like really simple apps - because you can work fast with them - and they are becoming harder to find and keep. the software designers keep updating their apps, making them "better". they seem to think everybody wants to draw like titian or rembrandt - or the pre-raphaelites - but this makes them cumbersome and i don't care so much for them.

one thing i really liked was the original black and white macpaint - i guess it was 1.0 - but i can't find it - or anything remotely like it available for the new breed of computer. if anybody out there can help me out on this, i would love to hear from them.

You have generously and prolifically collaborated with other writers. Why?

i just enjoy doing it. i don't do it for any other reason. maybe at some point i won't enjoy doing it so much, but for now, i would like to find more people to collaborate with - if anybody out there is interested. obviously there is a limit - if someone has a 3,000 page proustian manuscript, i can't illustrate it word for word, but within reason, i would like to hear from anyone interested.

Does it ever occur to you to try to do something more commercial? Do you think you could "go commercial" even if you tried? Have you ever tried to interest publishers in your work, so that you can actually get paid for your brilliance?

well of course it has occurred to me, but so far i haven't made any serious attempts. for now i am just trying to get some things done.

What writers and artists, in any genre, have influenced you? How and why?

for artists, the names that come right to mind are max ernst, henry darger, edward gorey, s clay wilson

and robert crumb - the very very early robert crumb.

also photographers who have produced books where the pictures have a sort of dream/narrative quality - like robert frank, charles gatewood. books of weegee's photographs. cindy sherman, i like cindy sherman.

raymond roussel - not an "artist" himself but for his "new impressions of africa" he commissioned an artist to do illustrations per his exact descriptions. -
"a man with one arm in a sling. the sling is very broad."
"a drinker apparently beginning to feel ecstatic. no other characters."

roy lichtenstein. dan, i noticed you and some of your friends saying bad things about roy lichtenstein on facebook but i like him. a big book of his works would be nice to have on a desert island or in a space capsule.

i have to admit i always liked andy warhol - the early "pop art" effect of warhol and lichtenstein was something i aimed for in my earliest efforts. whether they "deserved" to be considered "great artists" - let alone whether they deserved the money they made - i leave to the more abstractly minded.

among early cartoonists i especially like frank willard's moon mullins - there is
just something "inexpressibly droll" about it.

my favorite writers would be what are now called "noir" - fredric brown, richard stark, jim thompson, hammett and chandler, etc. -
but right now i am not seriously trying to imitate them. for writers influencing what i would actually like to do i would say kerouac and burroughs. not so much the subject matter but the ideas of "spontaneous prose" and cut-ups. also gertrude stein and the early official surrealists. anything that at least tries to break through the conventions of 99.9% of writing. i could go on and get pretty tiresome on this subject - i did one little piece on cutups on "cutup capers" and hope to do more.

finally, a poet with a cut up approach few people are aware of was f a nettelbeck, author of a book length poem "bug death". i discovered his work and thought he would become famous - as famous as a poet might get. he was apparently very desirous of becoming famous himself, but he died suddenly about a month ago without achieving this.

Do you read mostly dead authors or authors who aren’t dead yet?

mostly dead ones including many that i can remember as alive.

What dead famous authors do you find the most boring or detestable? Why?

i have never been much for strong negative opinions. generally if i don't like a writer or artist, i just move on - i have never taken reputations that seriously, so i don't get upset if someone is "overrated". i can think of one exception - henry james. there is something really maddening and excruciating - but also kind of fascinating about henry james. i recently read an interview with edward gorey where he said he hated - his word - henry james but had read everything he had written! i can almost understand that.

i might also mention jane austen. i don't have strong negative feelings but there is an interest just because so many people find her so fascinating - i figure there must be something there, but what? i have tried to read all her books, but never been able to finish one.

What living famous authors do you find the most tedious or repellant? Why?

again, i don't have strong negative feelings. there are a lot of writers i don't care for, but being a broadminded individual, i can see where they might appeal to others. one writer whose reputation baffles me is thomas pynchon. if i had read pynchon without knowing his reputation i don't think it would have crossed my mind it could be so high. i can see where his work could provide fodder for doctoral theses but to me it seems completely lifeless and stillborn.

Do you love any living author as much as you do any of your favorite dead authors? Why?

one writer i "discovered" at the library a few years ago was j m g le clezio, a french writer almost unknown in america. now he has won the nobel prize and he is still almost unknown in america. the early books i "discovered" , which were translated but ignored, were indescribable, original, very witty, and i highly recommend them. it seems that he then switched to a more conventional style and these books - some of which have now been translated - are to be avoided. one reviewer on amazon said his book "desert" - apparently his first in the second style - was the most boring book he had ever read and i can't disagree.

i like joyce carol oates but have not read all her books. i liked "them" and the early "rosamond smith" books.

mary gaitskill's "two girls fat and thin" is a book i really liked by an author still alive.

Getting back to the combination of art and words, do you read graphic novels or comic books, old or new? If so, who and what are your favorites, and why?

sure, i look at the new graphic novels. i will just say that - um - the possibilities are infinite, there are a lot of people who can draw - a lot better than i ever will - but lately i haven't found anyone with that extra flash of originality that even someone as raw as mike diana had, let alone what crumb and wilson had. but, i am always open to recommendations.

as for comics, i could go on and on. one style i like is the old horror comics - the really cheesy ones. there is a new book from fantagraphics - "four color fear" - which reprints some stories from the old horror comics other than e c. e c was sort of like mad magazine or the weekly world news - you feel a sort of frat boy sensibility - hey guys look at this, yuk yuk. where these others have a quality of real desperation - the desperation of guys chained to desks and forced to crank out dozens of vampire and zombie stories every week.

i have always liked batman. no matter how done to death batman seems to be, there is just something about batman - like noir films or noir novels - that seems to hold infinite possibility. moon mullins and batman are the two comics i am tempted to just rip off - do "fan" stuff on.
i would also like to say that i have always been a dc person. dan, from your blog and facebook postings you seem to be a marvel person. i think it is a sign of how far we have come in this country that a dc person and a marvel person can get along and work so well together.

I love the poems (like this one) that you have resurrected from the lost works of “horace p. sternwall”. To me these are the best poems being published today. What can you tell us about Horace?

it was a rainy night in early december. i stopped at a sub shop on my way home from work and ordered a mushroom and egg sub and some onion rings. while i was sitting in a booth waiting for my order i noticed someone had left a book on the seat. i pointed it out to the counterman and he said it had been there for three days. "nobody's come back looking for it. take it, if you want it." it wasn't a library book and had no name or markings on it. it had no dust jacket and both the front and back covers had large circular stains. flipping through it i could see many pages were scribbled over with crayons, mostly green and red. it was "alcibiades feast and other poems", by horace p sternwall. i took it home. most of the poems that were legible i have since put on the web, in illustrated versions on flashing by and unadorned on a little site i set up under the sternwall name. since then i have managed to find a few other books - "hades carnival", "lover and other poems" in as bad or worse condition - and have posted some of their contents as well. i have also tried to decipher some of the defaced poems, and taken other steps to obtain and verify individual poems. it seems he also published some stories under pseudonyms in the weird tales manner - apparently none in weird tales itself - and these are even harder to find and verify.
now of course a breakthrough has come with the discovery of a number - perhaps a very large number - of original paperback novels under even more names. these seem to have been written after forgoing poetry. you of course, being largely responsible for them, know more of these latest discoveries than i do.

Please forgive me, but do you have an “artistic credo”?

not one of my own, but i know a good one to steal. s clay wilson said, "do your own thing and the world will find you." i don't know if that is true - probably not - but it is a nice thought.
i also like burroughs' "total dissatisfaction with everything i have done in writing" - a good attitude.