Saidenberg and Cain Presented by Robert Glück for Small Press Traffic

During this 40th anniversary year, Small Press Traffic has asked former SPT Executive Directors to curate readings with writers they find compelling. On November 16th, Bob Glück featured Jocelyn Saidenberg and Amina Cain. Each of these two writers read riveting work, Saidenberg from her new book Dead Letter (Roof Books 2014) and Cain from Creature (Dorothy 2013). As they read, the entire audience seemed to be holding their breath. Jocelyn's and Amina's work, each distinct, share an exquisiteness of line, timbre, tone, pacing. One feels the spaces and weight of what has been left out. It is a pleasure to share Bob's introduction and a small portion from Amina's and Jocelyn's new books.
Bob Gluck

 Introduction from Robert Gluck:
When I was asked to curate an event here at SPT, it seemed to be very natural to ask Jocelyn and Amina.  I am an ardent fan of Jocelyn’s new book, Dead Letter, which makes various kinds of engagements with Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, as I am of her previous books, Mortal City, Cusp, Negativity and Shipwreck.  For Dead Letter I wrote this blurb: 
What if I prefer not to write myself legibly?  What if I decline yes, no, and all other locations?  What if going forward equals believing in the prison of legibility?  Then disbelief becomes its own mysticism and speech becomes an oracle from the other side of the limit.  This figure without form in Jocelyn Saidenberg’s Dead Letter has the empty voice of negative space.  Bartleby is the White Whale’s gabby cousin!--translating the deep shadow of an expanding empire into the deeper shadow of a contracting one.  Was there ever more fertile aporia or truer Valentine?—that is, founded so purely on loss?

So, then, I liked the idea of pairing a writer who is also one of my dearest friends with a writer I had never met.  One day at my house Jocelyn handed me a book that had lived in a stack of books for some time and she advised me to read it.  That was Creature by Amina Cain.  I did read it and it really melted my butter.  I felt at once that I am Amina’s ideal reader--I wish I could read twenty books by her, but there is only one more, I Go to Some Hollow.  Amina is a kind of corn-fed Maurice Blanchot.  Her writing is about being alive, and so it can go in any direction in each next sentence.   “What do you want from this city,” my friend asked me on the way home.  “Nothing, just to live in it.”  Just to live is by no means a simple wish, it is a wish that tangles one in recognitions and inner critics.  I love her prose for its declarative sentences that seem to be continuously beginning, and for the overall sense of writing from a kind of negative space.  “Not knowing what is good for anyone, I start writing.”

Jocelyn Saidenberg and her dog Pony

An excerpt from "Witness or My Sheep Return" from Jocelyn Saidenberg's Dead Letter:
I could not enter what existing already, that already living, but my entrance, by entering, made it, makes it continually and ever changing. It's the steadfast yet temporarily shadow gathered to our impersonal atmosphere, the not yet, if never, as experienced. And what does happen to arrive, that is our error and errancy, whose failure most generally. How enter the never intended, the not born from my yet encountered endless, whose unaccounted? To put words on that horizon then, and through indirection find out.

My errancy falls in an alien language who speaks the weather of strangeness. In touching, being touched by what, we dwell within the possible of shadows in my unfrequented wood as a loss yet to lose.

I am still looking for nothing in particular but am less than singular without. You find me and you welcome my arrival in what was there, already, whatever strangeness, difference or otherwise. To reckon this now untamed and inraptured within the wilderness through which I wander, ecstatic. I am a being becoming a full stop, in open sky, arresting, scattering the nut and its shell. For I'd populate these wilds with whatever instinct, receptive semination, to gather rather than form. It's the formlessness that speaks myself, negligent in intention, as grass or stone or atmosphere, arrived like a seed on the wind. Come from without and coming otherwise lost, fall through the cleft, birdborne.

The doing of not doing. How I see and am seen to be being and the doing of the not doing, all a doing, for we are of various beings. I am your orchard, your garden to wander through. Increase the fragrance of flourishing, and prune what you please, I prosper by it, and am yours, for I bloom the better.

To review and in short, I arrived at my attorney's office where I remained, doing masses, then less, then doing nothing. My attorney tried to do something about me doing nothing, that is, he tried. At last I am taken to prison where he visits twice. I am found therein sleeping with kings and counsellors.

I didn't mean to mean, didn't assume to mean otherwise the unthought, formless promise, starved of all attachment, for there was no pause of digestion. As instinct I kiss this and this grows in unreason, sprouts in tending what is no longer hidden and hiding.

If to sleep at the dusk where our ship had wrecked, wrong ship and wrong love, wrecked in our vast Atlantic, scattered seeds at the bottom of the sea. I am as weather shadow cloud and as weather shadow cloud I am this everlasting dusk, this elsewise that you find me, love, ever wrong, ever ours. Be ever the weather shadow cloud, be ever, be everlastingly returned, called back.

Listen, I keep to wander, to how weather wanders, shadows and clouds. If one into the other, the possible of each the other endlessly. Let my body become wind bewildering the twilight between us now. My forehead touches the wall, darkened by inwardness by shadow, above the tufted grass, uncarpeted fields, resting here (81-83).

Amina Cain

from Amina Cain's "The Sleeve of My Coat" from her book Creature:
We have gotten into the habit of inviting other couples to our house to play cards, and once they are here they stay for a long time. I am always surprised by it. At five A.M. one would expect to be in bed, sleeping. They relax here, maybe too much. It might be that they feel relaxed by how close we are to the ocean.
    In the afternoons everything happens that can't happen at night. Time. Food. A toy horse that races across the living room floor when my neighbor comes to visit with her children. We sit on the terrace ever so tensely. Almost transparent, like the tip of a plant.
     For a long time I couldn't get settled in life. I remember this constantly. I think about it on the terrace. I would see a dog and think it was a cat. Then something got bigger. My personality.
     In between visits from the couples, and the neighbor and her children, my husband and I work in our studies. My husband's study is filled with tropical plants, which he keeps warm in the winters with fluorescent lights. My study is filled with books and dust. I like working when I know he is also working. I hear him watering his plants, and smoking. Sometimes I'm extremely frustrated when I write, and other moments I am extremely scared. I never knew it was possible to be scared while working on a story.
     One night in my study I felt I was supposed to write about our house. I had never before seen our house as a strange thing. I looked at the clothes in my closet. I knew that this was writing, to look at those clothes. Later, when the couples arrived, I was distant from them.
     Tonight it seems like fall, but it isn't. In the kitchen my husband is making a very involved salad. We sit talking about our work, and eating, and I drip olive oil onto my blouse, accidentally.
     "Your race is flushed," my husband says.
     Something croaks loudly at the window, startling me.
     I will never write a novel. I will never write about the couples. I will know the couples. I will know myself.
     "What's wrong?" my husband asks.
     "There's always someone here. When am I supposed to write?"
     After dinner I go into one of the rooms of the house. Sitting in a chair, an antique, I feel--enormous. My personality. Mixed with fall.
     My husband is calling me from somewhere upstairs. It sounds as if he is in the hallway. I get interested in my own breath, which doesn't happen very often. The curtain moves, and I like the way it matches something in side me. But I know that a curtain shouldn't match me and that I shouldn't like it.

Morning arrives and I drag myself out of bed hours after my husband has gotten up. The room is cold and airy, but I don't care: today there's something nice about it. I want to air out my mind. I find a pair of pale yellow tights in one of the drawers of the dresser.
     "You idiot," I say to them.
     But I go outside wearing the yellow tights all the same and find my neighbor's daughter playing with a huge stuffed animal on our terrace.
     "What's that?" I ask.
     "A rhinoceros, " says Sylvie. She's wearing a black leotard and tutu, and grabbing onto the banister she pulls herself along it. She doesn't look like she's dancing, but she does seem to be enjoying herself.
     I ask her, because I do want to know, "Is that dancing?" and she says that it is, that she learned it the day before in her ballet class. "It's not dancing, " I tell her and she doesn't respond. Just like with the couples, I'm surprised at how long this "dancing" can go on, but I try to stay present.
     It's the kind of morning that's more like an evening it's so dark outside. A newspaper blows along the street. I feel something towards it. A tree limb sways up and down in the breeze.
     Outside I can see my past. Here is where I stood with a friend and talked about a movie. Here is the exact moment I knew I wanted to write. Here's the bed I slept in with someone I once loved. Here is the weather when I had bronchitis. Here is the emotion when I said goodbye.
     That night I drink five glasses of wine, even though I usually only drink one. With five glasses of wine, I begin to admire my life. All these attractive couples are around me. How did it happen?
     "I made lentil soup," I hear one of the men say, as he deals cards around a table. It makes me realize I have no idea what the couples do when they are not at our house.
     There is my husband. He's been with the same couple all night. I begin to admire him, the way the couple is very easily in his presence. I am usually rigid, and though many couples approach me, I have a hard time allowing them to stay. I make my excuses and go out to the terrace. I look down at the grass. Inevitably a couple comes and sits with me quietly. This is the kind of couple I am most suited for.
     When we try to sleep that night my husband is like a dog or a cat, and I am unsettled by it.
     "A couple came upstairs," he says.
     "After you had five glasses of wine."
      "What did they do up here?"
      He paws at the darkness. "They wanted to see your study."
     "What did they think about it?"
      "They said they felt at home."

The next day it's warm again, as it should be. The ocean is calm and it looks as if a shark will come out of it. Then my neighbor appears.
     "What's wrong?" she asks.
     "When I look at you I see a character from a book."
     "I am not a character."
      "You are. An annoying one."
     She doesn't leave. The water moves through its waves. "It's you who looks like a character."
    "Which one?"
     "The one who---." She stops. "Dies."
     At home I ask my husband, "Where's our neighbor's husband?" I am sitting in his study among his tropical plants. There are so many of them. One plant blocks out the couple.
     "I think he left."
      The couples and my neighbor and her children, I write in my notebook.
     "What are you writing?" my husband asks me.
     "It's too new to share."
      "Are you worried she's lonely?"
      "No. Will you play some music? Something pretty."
      He plays something stressful.
      I like having to wear tights under my dress. It's because of something inside me. Their hair
blowing back lightly from their faces. You'll never understand how angry I am. Today the plants are like a painting. It's not a cry to writing, it's a cry to a future novel. Always ignoring her. People have fucked in here. Here is a novel in which---I know them in a certain kind of way. Sylvie has picked up a rhinoceros and is hitting it against a wall.
     "You're writing in my study."
      "Is it okay?"
      "Of course, you're my wife."
      "When the couple's in my study, can I be here?"
     "Don't you want to be in your study with them, to make sure they don't mess anything up?" (55-60).


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