Welcome to the blog for Lift Your Right Arm, my new short prose collection. Here you’ll find news, reviews, outtakes from the book and other related material and ephemera, as well as notices of readings and personal appearances. The official website is here. Also check out my full list of online publications, my Facebook author page, or my food and travel blog.
From the publisher’s press release:
Pelekinesis Publishes Innovative Ebook of “Outtakes” by Peter Cherches
Fiction writer Peter Cherches had an interesting idea about what to do with the takes on the cutting room floor.
The author, whom Publisher’s Weekly called “One of the innovators of the short short story,” had recently published a volume of fiction, Lift Your Right Arm, consisting of five sequences of related short prose pieces. That book led poet Billy Collins to declare, “To Gödel, Escher, and Bach we might consider adding Peter Cherches.” Luc Sante called the 160-page volume “the equivalent of a whole shelf of books.” But the pieces in Lift Your Right Arm represent only a portion of the work that Cherches wrote for those sequences.
As Cherches writes in the preface to the new ebook-only Outtakes from Lift Your Right Arm, “For each group, I write and complete more pieces than I ultimately use, and I begin many more than that, as I try out different concepts and premises. Often a completed piece will only be cut from a group toward the end of the process, as I decide on an order and flow, perhaps because the tone doesn’t seem quite right in the scheme of the whole, or perhaps because the mood or premise is too close to something else already in the group.” Having a surplus of material he still felt to be of publishable quality, Cherches approached Pelekinesis publisher Mark Givens with the idea of an ebook of outtakes, much like bonus material found on CDs and DVDs. The book would serve as a companion ebook to Lift Your Right Arm for readers interested in the process as well as the writing, but for author and publisher the publication of an ebook also seemed to be an ideal promotional vehicle for Lift Your Right Arm itself.
The ebook will be published on September 16, 2013 exclusively for the Kindle. Cherches and Givens hope that the low-priced ebook will introduce new readers to Cherches’ work and lead to further sales of Lift Your Right Arm.
I’ve started a Listmania on Amazon for books of short prose sequences.
Today I’m featuring a guest writer on the blog, with one of my favorite prose poems. It’s by the great Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez, and it was written in (and about) New York in 1916. Jimenez was the Nobel laureate in 1956, the year I was born. At the time he was in San Juan, in exile from Franco’s Spain. The translator is H.R. Hays.
Broadway. Evening. Signs in the sky that make one dizzy with color. New constellations: The Pig, all green, dancing and waving greetings to the left and right with his straw hat, the Bottle which pops its ruddy cork with a muted detonation against a sun with eyes and a mouth, the Electric Stocking which dances madly by itself like a tail separated from a salamander, the Scotchman who displays and pours his whiskey with its white reflections, the Fountain of mallow-pink and orange water through whose shower, like a snake, pass hills and valleys of wavering sun and shade, links of gold and iron (that braid a shower of light and another darkness…), the Book which illuminates and extinguishes the successive imbecilities of its owner, the Ship which every moment, as it lights up, sails pitching toward its prison, to run aground immediately in the darkness…and…
The moon! Let’s see! Look at it between those two tall buildings over there, above the river, over the red octave beneath, don’t you see it? Wait, let’s see! No…is it the moon or just an advertisement of the moon?
I wrote “Bagatelles” mostly in 1980, while I was in the graduate fiction writing program at Brooklyn College. While most of my teachers were fiction writers, I also did a tutorial with John Ashbery. Ashbery had agreed to work with me, I think, because my prose work fell between the cracks of genre, and he also had liked some translations of French poetry (Apollinaire and Eluard) I had published in college literary magazines. Every other week, for a half hour or 45 minutes, I’d have a one-on-one meeting with John. We’d go over the pieces I was writing for “Bagatelles,” but he also gave a writing assignment each time. They were often based on the techniques of the surrealists or the fixed forms of the OULIPO group, two areas of mutual interest. My writing, with its spare simplicity, was perhaps 180 degrees away from Ashbery’s style, yet we shared a lot of literary interests. And I have to say that as a young writer it meant a lot to me to have the approval of a writer of his stature and intelligence. I still cherish as one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received a comment he made about “Bagatelles”: “This work is frighteningly simple.” The piece below was based on a rebus that John gave me as a prompt. The thing about John Ashbery is that, despite the “seriousness” of his work, he, like me, is quite fond of silliness. In this piece he was especially fond of the phrase “private erection collection.” He was always impeccably dressed, and I was kind of surprised, based on his image and his writing, by how down to earth he is. I said to someone recently that he’s a mensch in gentleman’s clothing. “No Crime” was originally published in my early chapbook Snacks. I vehemently disavow about 80% of the work in that book now, but I still like this.
The patterns in the key sent in by the sea made the sun seem an unusual one. He’d been watching for clues, and he tried to moo for them too. The scene was eerie, it was weary of a murder. He had tried to grease the police, but they put him off. They didn’t want an outside dick to stick his nose in. So, fearing a kick from the cops, and throwing a bone to his woes, he decided to go it alone. Only there was a problem: his private erection collection was occupying his attention.
He walked through the sense of the fence, past the dead beside the shed. Inside the victim was found, knife wound in his chest. On a nearby desk lay a floor plan, covered with sand and cream from an abandoned evergreen. On the map, in one corner, was a mourner, surrounded by a broken circle. The mourner held an arrow that pointed to a narrow window. He looked out, thought he heard a shout, and ran to take a closer look. The tree shook and he thought he glimpsed a familiar shape. An apparent rape in the leaves kept him probing. But no, it was an illusion, the conclusion to a futile search. There was nothing in the tree, there was no crime. The cops, ungreased, ungrimed, had set him up for their own good time. I’ll get even with the cops he swore, and he swallowed the key, and the sun followed, and the earth froze, and the cops died, and the mourner in the corner cried.
They were awoken by a loud noise. It was a small airplane flying around their bedroom. The plane was skywriting. The message read “We do windows,” followed by a phone number. They read the message with great interest, but when they realized the phone number was theirs they went back to sleep.