Mad Hatters' Review
Columns - Issue 4
Jabberwocky Webb Crazy Jane's Advice to the Lorn of Love The Modern Buckaroos' Guide to the Western World Mad Hatters' Indaba
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'Jabberwocky Webb' by C.B Smith
Jabberwocky Webb
As book reviewer for Mad Hatters' Review, I search trade publications and Internet sources looking for the new and notable independent publishing houses, understanding from experience that the most fascinating, challenging, and distinctive voices emanate from these quarters. It is these voices we wish to assist in bringing to international attention in our own small way.
Browne Dimon/Held Gann Kelly Lecasble
'The Agency of Wind' by Laynie Browne
'Absolut Death and Others' by Roz Dimon, George Held 'Our Napoleon in Rags' by Kirby Gann
'Jimwamba' by Scott Kelly
'Lobster' by Guillaume Lecasble
click on covers to read reviews
'The Father Costume' by Ben Marcus 'Twelve Nights' by Gerlind Reinshagen 'The Pink Institution' by Selah Saterstrom 'A Hat on the Bed' by Christine Scanlon 'KssssS: A Tale of $ex, Money, and Alien Inva$ion' by Karl Tighe
Marcus Reinshagen Saterstrom Scanlon Tighe
The Agency of Wind, by Laynie Browne
'The Agency of Wind' by Laynie Browne

In Laynie Browne's collection of prose poems, the common thread is best embodied in the opening epigraph by Herman Melville:

"Would now the wind had but a body: but all the things that most exasperate and outrage mortal man, all these things are bodiless but only bodiless as objects, not as agents."

In answer, perhaps, to Melville, she sets out to grant the wind not body, but agency. And so we are taken on a winding journey as we sweep, float, and glide into a world of strangely familiar yet sadly foreign moments, things, and elements, well within our grasp but far from our claim. In Crane and Girl a simple walk along a beach is transformed into a tour of a strange exotic land, where aviary creatures of greater profundity enchant the mindset of mere mortals. Further on, in The Sweepress, we are taken to oceanic sand ground zero on a quest to find what has never been found before, or at the very least found and discarded: “This location appears to be the tip of a gem. Walking, the beauty is all below…” And, much like Alice, “Walk into a mirror accordingly.” But it is Browne's subtle negotiation of the line and the sentence that is most noteworthy. Her techniques are varied: regular paragraph/stanzas; more archly presented blocks of justified poetry/prose; and--most often and most intriguingly—short stanzas/paragraphs, sometimes only a single line, that read as either prose or verse, doggedly riding the fine line between the two for as long as possible. In a flurry of confusion inhabited by childhood wonderment, a girl wanders out and upon The Windmaker's Door, to inquire the whereabouts of the door of the wind, but meets instead with apathetic rejection: "What manner of being asks such a question. It is common knowledge that many living things require no door, no doorstep." But in the truest spirit of childhood, the girl licks her wounds and ventures forth, finally discovering if not the wind's door, certainly its gathering spot: "I walked discouraged, following my feet with no sense of direction, until I came almost suddenly to the edge of a cliff. Small solace. A wind plain…" A sudden inglorious end averted thanks in part to the solace of wind. In this poem alone, the agency of wind is employed to great result: the saving of a life. And this is an agency, like the poetry of Laynie Browne, the world could certainly use more of.

Publisher
http://www.avecbooks.org

About the Author
Laynie Browne was born in 1966, and grew up in Los Angeles. She received a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988, and an M.F.A. from Brown University in 1990. She received a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony in 1992, and was awarded the Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry three times between 1993 and 1996. She lives in Seattle.

Absolut® Death and Others by Roz Dimon, George Held

'Absolut Death and Others' by Roz Dimon, George Held

When this title first hit the market in 2000, quite a hubbub was raised around it; it was as though the messiah himself had stepped down from the clouded heavens. Who would have thought all of the rapturous noise was over an unassuming collaboration of art and poetry? One peek inside this book tells you we are no longer in Kansas, as the good is the bad is the no telling what. In a cleverly crafted assemblage of familiar products, the pop culture is deconstructed and critiqued in a not-subtle but unobjectionable way. For instance, the first panel—Tylenol®—is accompanied by the following:

What did we do before Tylenol®,
Advil®, and Excedrin®?
We gnashed our teeth, writhed in pain,
Or took an aspirin.

While summing it up nicely with a not-too-subtle allusion to the biblical Book of Revelations, we have in clear language here a chant that has been subconsciously repeated by the masses time and again: What did we do before? It is the nature of commerce in a country driven by capitalism that products take over our lives to the point that we are left stupefied with wonder at how we could ever have gotten by without them. Do the manufacturers puff up with pride at this occurrence? You bet they do. But there is no reason for concern, just grab yourself a hold of the collective nipple in the form of a Perrier® and be thankful you have this to save you from the horribly undrinkable byproduct of the public water system. And yes, yes, this is far too much aforethought before every step. So again our authors have an answer: don’t think, drink! This leads very neatly into the panel that is the eponymous title Absolut® Death and Others, as we are bequeathed the poem:

Absolut®’s the perfect ablution
For those in need of Absolution.

Surely a comforting notion. Don’t think, drink, your government depends on it. Yet none of these accusations are made directly, association assigns guilt. An entire catalog of criticisms could be collected in a much larger work and launched at the multinational marketing machine, and most would probably be dead on. Yet this particular work does not mean to bludgeon the reader, but simply apprise in a simple and easily digestible fashion. There are enough potshots taken in this book to make you look askance next time you watch the ever-present TV commercials or visit the grocery store. But finally, there is no cause for concern: don’t think, drink.

Publisher
Dimon Arts, Inc.

About the Authors

Roz Dimon

Roz Dimon, an early and innovative participant in the digital art revolution, continues to evolve as a top communicator in the medium that defines our age. Her ArtStory, www.artstory.net, with over 200 works of art and multiple stories, now reaches over 20,000 people per month in over 22 countries. Her work is in the private corporate collections of AT&T, Pfizer and many others and she has been invited to show her work in numerous national and international exhibitions of new media art. Alongside her own creative projects, she created RDA Design, a successful web design consulting boutique and was a former Art Director for the Wall Street Journal Online. Dimon is a graduate of the Lamar Dodd School of Art in Athens, Georgia and makes her home in Shelter Island, NY.

George Held
George Held has published over 400 items, including poems, haiku, short stories, critical essays, book reviews, and translations. He taught English from 1958-2004, most recently at Queens College, and was Fulbright lecturer in American literature in Czechoslovakia (1973-76). His writing has appeared in anthologies such as Tokens: Contemporary Poetry of the Subway (2003), and journals including: Commonweal, Confrontation, Connecticut Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Notre Dame Review. Twice a Pushcart Prize nominee, he published three poetry chapbooks between 1995 and 1999, one of which, Open and Shut, was a winner of the Talent House Press Chapbook Contest. He co-authored a book of his verse and the paintings of Roz Dimon in 2000 and published a book of poems, Beyond Renewal (Cedar Hill), in 2001. His e-book, American Poetry (2003), is viewable at www.newformalist.com/ebooks/held.html, and his latest chapbooks are Grounded (Finishing Line Press, 2005) and Martial Artist (Toad Press, 2005), a collection of his translations of twenty-one of Martial’s epigrams on writing. Held co-edited The Ledge Poetry and Fiction Magazine from 1991-2003, and he edited Touched by Eros (Live Poets, 2002), an anthology of erotic verse. He reviews poetry books for The Philadelphia Inquirer and various literary journals. He also serves on the executive board of the South Fork Natural History Society and Museum (Bridgehampton, NY), whose annual publication, Biota, he co-edits. Held lives in Greenwich Village with his wife, Cheryl.

Our Napoleon in Rags, by Kirby Gann

'Our Napoleon in Rags' by Kirby Gann

Take the set of long-running TV show Cheers, populate it with characters who are well-acquainted with the dark and dreary worlds of Dostoevsky, and what do you get? Nothing less than Kirby Gann’s novel, Our Napoleon in Rags. The epicenter of this whirlpool is the Don Quixote, a bar and dystopian sprawl where drink and deliberation comprise the undisputed half-life of the central character Haycraft Keebler. As his life and those of the regulars at the appointed watering hole arc and whirl in unspeakable directions, here, at the codified center, all events proceed unflinchingly at a snail’s pace. Can one man change the world? Haycraft, bipolar son of a famous politician, thinks he can. And he will do anything, legal or otherwise, to inspire the people of Montreux, a decaying city in the heartland of America, to rise up against the powers that be and restore the city to its former glory. Haycraft's home away from home is the Don Quixote, and the regulars, long used to Haycraft's schemes, keep watch over their bipolar "Napoleon in Rags." However, the bonds that hold this "family" together are forever changed when Haycraft falls in love with a fifteen-year old male hustler.

Weaving the contemporary hot-button issues of mental illness, homophobia, racism, and police brutality through a novel that is Victorian in its graceful storytelling, Kirby Gann has created not only an extraordinary read, but a biting commentary on contemporary America.

Publisher
http://www.igpub.com

About the Author
Kirby Gann's first novel, The Barbarian Parade, was called "a striking debut for a novelist of daring creativity and passion" by Edmund White. His short fiction has appeared in Witness, The Crescent Review, American Writing, The Louisville Review, The Southeast Review, and The Southern Indiana Review. He is also Managing Editor at Sarabande Books, and teaches in the MFA Program at Spalding University

Jimwamba, by Scott Kelly

'Jimwamba' by Scott Kelly

“Someone slaps you on the back, says the word, and you have to change your life in the next twenty minutes.” A childhood game develops into a ruthless psychological obsession involving power-struggles, anxiety, frustration, revenge and personal devastation in Scott Kelly’s novel. What manner of game is this? Jimwamba. Begun innocently (or not?) in the imagination of a group of ten year olds, the game absorbs and changes all nine members involved. The game follows them through grade school, high school, college and beyond, imposing and controlling their lives at each Jimwamba tag interruption. One might well ask, “Why don’t they just stop playing, go away, leave this childhood fascination behind?” The truth is some do try, but find the result no less problematic. So what can be done? Play the game, always play the game. Think about it: you are charged with changing your life in the next twenty minutes. Will you impulsively latch onto the first idea that crosses your mind, or will you take the full measure of the twenty-minute deadline to more carefully and safely construct a plan? None of the players in the tale take the longer, perhaps safer, route, as an element of reckless surprise seems essential to the nature of the game. Ask yourself: What would you do? What would you change? These are big questions that go far beyond the confines of the book, as an existential perspective is explored. During one memorable scene narrator Jack Dewitt, at a Jimwamba tag interruption, leaves his wife and self-proclaimed love of his life. Why? Impulse, sheer impulse. In another he adopts a collection of super-spy tactics, all for the sake of covering his tracks. Jimwamba is the enemy of the contented, the sedate, the settled; it seeks to stir the waters. It is no surprise, then, that as the players age and enter into their early adult years they become reclusive, hiding and dodging like hunted animals, all in an effort to avoid the Jimwamba tag, the ensuing consequences. Ultimately, this proves to be much more than a cuddle up and read-a-story kind of story, for author Kelly issues a challenge to his readers that resonates well after the book’s covers are closed, one that strikes at the core of humankind’s desire for adventure, coupled with an overriding fear of change. Within this seemingly simple tale is contained the philosophical elements of a life’s work. Written from the perspective of 18 year old author Scott Kelly, this seems a logical and toxic conclusion to the childhood view of the ossified adult world, a world where change is considered the enemy, where much is discussed but very little done, where lives of quiet desperation often become the norm. And, if this simple game could stop the adult world from ever arriving, what then? Perhaps in the promised sequel Kelly will provide an answer.

Publisher
http://www.flamebooks.com

About the Author
Scott Kelly was born in Port Lavaca, Texas. He wrote his first novel when he was fourteen years old. Six years and three (unpublished) books later, Jimwamba was published by Flame Books. Kelly is devoted to bending the rules of storytelling and breaking any tradition that stands in his way, while still somehow managing to move his reader. He is currently (begrudgingly) an English major at Texas State University, and continues to redefine his craft in any unconventional manner possible.

Lobster, by Guillaume Lecasble

'Lobster' by Guillaume Lecasble

“Lobster didn’t want to go. He put up a fight. The fisherman grabbed him by the tail and pulled him out of the pot.” So begins the harrowing coming of age tale told from the perspective of a creature of the sea, as Lobster replays the account of his brief and Titanic-bound life. After being pulled from the sea and placed in a crate it is only a matter of time before he can hear the clinking of metal utensils to know the future is not offering any improved conditions. Awaiting certain death, he watches as his father is cooked, served, and eaten by Angelina, a young disenchanted woman. But at this juncture Lobster finds himself conflicted: should he hate her, or should he acknowledge the strange tingling sensations he is feeling for this soft skinned creature of no shell? This question is soon answered as the Titanic goes Mayday, for Lobster’s pot is overturned, setting him free; he finds himself pulled by the swirling waters between Angelina’s legs, where the most orgasmic interaction ensues. It is not long afterward that Lobster and Angelina are tragically separated. As the tale develops into an intertwining of serpentine paths Lobster searches for his new love interest to no avail and she, in kind, searches for him. The story unfolds as a Romeo and Juliet gone horribly wrong at sea. Told in a spare, matter-of-fact style, this novel brings home the story of perhaps the first recorded love affair between human and crustacean. And so enrapturing is the tale you may find yourself inexorably drawn to relive the adventures of the main character, Lobster. You can be sure that Angelina is still out there somewhere, searching, and if you are her Lobster, you may find that there remains much unspoken.

Publisher
http://www.dedalusbooks.com

About the Author
Guillaume Lecasble was born in 1954. He started painting at the age of 19 and had a first solo exhibition eleven years later. From his artwork – and particularly the portrait of a chorus of monks - he was inspired to experiment with new approaches to filmmaking. Various short films yielded a pair of characters (bonhomme & bonfemme) who then reincarnated themselves in a series of highly praised books for children. Painting continues to inspire and accompany his written and cinematographic work. Lobster, his first novel, was published to critical acclaim in France in 2003. His second novel, Cut, was published in 2004.

The Father Costume, by Ben Marcus (read interview here)

'The Father Costume' by Ben Marcus

In The Father Costume by Ben Marcus, a meditation of a disturbed, dangerous, and mysterious father is brought to bear. Right from the outset, there is every reason to fear and distrust this character. “My father’s costumes were gray and long and of the finest pile, sometimes clear enough for us to see through, but there was no reason to look at that man’s body.” But one can never be sure who to trust in this meditation: the father or the sons, known only as narrator and brother. In this story no names are given any of the characters, as they inhabit only the roles they satisfy. As to that, the mother figure is only obliquely mentioned in the first two paragraphs, after which time we can assume—given the tenor of the tale—she is killed off. Weighing the accordant distrust attendant here, it comes as a surprise when the boys decide to join their father on an oceanic journey, using a small dinghy as agent. But here the paranoia increases exponentially: “It would be so nice to think that a boat was not involved, that we had instead lugged our things overland in low riding wagons. At least overland we might have been sighted from the air.” Speaking with Ben Marcus about this he says that he liked the idea of placing absolute trust in a character whose intent is undeclared. “That kind of innocence appealed to me, the trust you put in someone whose designs are beyond your comprehension.” There is no question that the fundamental insecurity of the trusting position charges the space with an unpredictable energy flow, an energy flow that plays a major part in this novel as the usual and ordinary inanimate devices are transformed either in fact or imagination—where we are never quite sure—into tools or weapons that can be used to great effect, but for the time of the tale are simply observed and gathered. Here a metronome, a passive instrument of much use to a musician, is turned into a device capable of strangling the brother: “He placed it near my brother, adjusted the dial to Suffocate, and caused my brother, after several spasms of resistance, to stop breathing.” After that, the son laments the hole in his costume left by the loss of his brother yet seemingly does not take the next step of fearing his own fate. But that too quickly changes as the son fantasizes invoking land animals to attack his father, to shut him up, perhaps permanently. “My father I would fix to a platform on the water until the animals came for him…it would be simply a matter of time.” Yet within the framework of plotting in his mind to eliminate his father, the boy does nothing at all, simply waits and follows his father with no certainly of what would come next. Hence the innocent trust a child has in his parental figures, whoa should they become maniacal.

In this novel—where much simmers behind the scenes, and where despite the action much is left unspoken—a decided funereal pall is cast over the entirety of the work, as the unknowable menace chips away at any figment of remaining security. And while all returns to complaisant normalcy for the reader, all is never quite the same as the menace lurks and lays in wait “beyond your comprehension.”

Publisher
http://www.artspace-sf.com/frame_books.html

About the Author
Ben Marcus is the editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. His other books are The Age of Wire and String and Notable American Women.

Twelve Nights, by Gerlind Reinshagen

'Twelve Nights' by Gerlind Reinshagen


Torn as they often are between too much and too little memory, German writers have only recently ventured above ground in their explorations of German wartime and postwar suffering. With this collection of vignettes, prolific playwright Reinshagen courts memory—taunts it, even—as her characters, often little more than oblique sketches, tell their stories of reconstruction. Readers are similarly challenged to scrounge similarities and sew meaning across Reinshagen's 12 narrative "nights" of varying degrees of darkness. Children play-acting out leg amputations; a white muslin dress dyed black and worn and reworn until shiny; Brother Sisyphus covering his canvases with only white primer—like W. G. Sebald, Reinshagen homes in on memory's affinity for the visually visceral. The charm of these texts lies in the tension between the austere narrative framework and the yielding, lyrical language. Twelve Nights is a beautiful and silent book, into which you have to find your way; but once inside, the book won't let you go until you've found a story of your very own.

Publisher
http://www.postapollopress.com/

About the Author
Free authoress since 1956 of numerous novels, plays, and radio plays. Lives in Berlin. Member of the PEN center and the German academy of the representing arts.

The Pink Institution, by Selah Saterstrom

'The Pink Institution' by Selah Saterstrom

“The day the war began is known as ruination day.” So begins the novel collection of prose poetry, The Pink Institution, a wandering induction into worlds half known to many, but finely known to just a few. To call the few lucky would be an insult; to call the few proud despite would be closer to the truth. Told in fragments—backward, forward, multidirectional, sometimes simultaneous—from the rich traditions of Faulkneresque literature, the memories are dredged up and put on display for consumption by benign eyes that, in the end, see far more than they are perhaps capable, while raising no more than an eyebrow in response. The memories are evoked with all debt repaid as a new path is paved in keeping with the South’s displaced and fractured present. As silent sentinels the children inhabiting these tales are ever present, watchful, frightened, victimized at times, the frequent horrors played out before their all-receiving eyes. Yet among these twisted tales are stories of those in the community willing to help the afflicted, like Micajah, who took kindly to Jeremiah, a teenager who had drawn the short end of the stick. “When Micajah took in the teenaged Jeremiah, everyone knew it was a Christian thing.” But sometimes the kind thing to do becomes a doorway to Hell: “Azalea was nine when Jeremiah thereafter raped Azalea.” Degradation taken as divine right. It is no surprise then a hastily arranged and secretive marriage finds Azalea at twelve along with pregnancy. Yet in time the pain becomes too much to bear: “Aza swallowed an entire bottle of Vitamin pills in a suicide attempt. Everyone found it amusing, even Aza.” Told in a collage style of competing and colliding tenses, past and present, from intricately woven alternate voices, the technique brings the reader square into the confusion of random and unconscionable acts most assuredly experienced by those described. If only words were enough to ease the suffering. Perhaps this collection is a sort of exorcism of all evils in the hope of redemption, or at the very least, salvation.

Publisher
http://www.coffeehousepress.org/

About the Author
Selah Saterstrom was born in 1974 and raised in the region around Natchez, Mississippi. She is the editor of Soul Collections, an anthology of prose and poetry written by at-risk teenagers in North Carolina and her fiction has appeared in 3rd Bed, Tarpaulin Sky, and Monkey Puzzle. Saterstrom lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

A Hat on the Bed, by Christine Scanlon

'A Hat on the Bed' by Christine Scanlon

In a world of pain there is color, in a world of color pain. This is the way of the circular world and thus the circular poetic resonance of A Hat on the Bed. Christine Scanlon’s poetry is sometimes impish, even jaunty, sometimes puzzling, always seductive and very smart. Her introspections touch upon the indistinct, the unusual, and the arcane, as she probes for a deeper meaning. In Night Rumbled in like a Mailman with a Nosebleed, she extends her probe to nocturnal designs: “When night rushed in like arm and hammer. Serious as a failed insurrection or futile like kissing yourself.” It is here that her jaunty voice takes the stage as she studies the shape and sense of night (“so night crept like a six toed cat reminding me the popular media is everywhere”), though by study’s end a peaceful resolution is achieved (“then night was a renaissance conjurer reaching out a hand to pull down the shade”). If a kaleidoscopic view of the world had a form it would be the silhouette of Christine Scanlon, a poet of colors, grace, and intelligence who in a circular way brings the deeper meaning home.

Publisher
http://www.barrowstreet.org/

About the Author
Christine Scanlon was born in New York City in 1971 and, except for a brief time in Montréal, has lived there ever since. She received her MFA from The New School, and is currently doing graduate work in literature at The City University of New York. A Hat on the Bed is her first book.

KssssS: A Tale of $ex, Money, and Alien Inva$ion, by Karl Tighe

'KssssS: A Tale of $ex, Money, and Alien Inva$ion' by Karl Tighe

The story is set in Croeso (meaning “Welcome”), a place where ordinary people do ordinary things – until the Martin family arrive and bring with them a KssssS; then things begin to change.

KssssS “divines what needs 2 be done goes right ahead and does it!!!” says the leaflet handed round by a “very tall pale woman with a mass of flame red hair and wrap-around dark glasses.” Thus by page 22, when this woman and two other members of her oddly distinctive group arrive to Croeso by a van that resembles a traveling circus, we know that something strange and wonderful has set in for a stay.

The KssssS proves to be a small, dark gray box, made of some metalo-plastic compound. There are no sharp edges, seams, rivets or joints on the surface; it feels comfortable in the palm of one’s hand, is cool to the touch, and is heavy for its size. It makes no sound when held to the ear and shaken. There do not seem to be any moving or mechanical parts. In their pockets all purchasers find a sheet of paper. Across the top, in a peculiarly liquid script, is written:

Martia Enterprises
This is a lifetime guarantee
KssssS

It is a starry and strange tale indeed, a tale that weaves and interweaves all manner of life in all its forms. There is Money, Sex, and Alien Invasion, certainly, but it is not done Area 52 style; rather, these things occur in plain daylight. This is the Adams Family meets the Munsters before they swing by the Jetsons’s for high tea. What a whirl what a twirl what a girl of a curl. Carl Tighe has done it again, as he leaps up into the cosmos to pull down a tale that nicely sums up the finesse and folly that is man.

Publisher
http://www.impressbooks.fsnet.co.uk

About the Author
Carl Tighe is an established writer whose publications include works of both fiction and non-fiction:

Gdansk (Pluto, 1990), nominated for the Silver PEN Award. A book about National Identity in the German/Polish Borderlands.

Rejoice! and Other Stories (Cape, 1992), nominated for the David Highem Prize and shortlisted for The Irish Times Fiction prize.

A Whisper in the Wind, which won the All London Drama Prize.

Politics of Literature. Poland,1945-1985 (University of Wales Press, 1999)

Pax: Variations (IMPress, 2000), for which he was awarded City Life Writer of the Year 2000.

Burning Worm (IMPress, 2001), shortlisted for the 2001 Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Authors’ Club Award.

He has had several plays and stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Wales, and RTE, and has been published widely in magazines including Ambit and Metropolitan.

Carl Tighe is Professor of Creative Writing at Derby University.

More reviews by CB Smith at Barfing FrogBarfing Frog
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Crazy Jane's Advice to the Lorn of Love
Image © 2006 Tony Juliano
Crazy Jane's Advice to the Lorn of Love

Dear Crazy Jane,

My sweetie is a perfect winky-dinky except for a couple teensy things. Like for one he eats sardines in bed when he watches MTV, and it's hell getting them fish-oil stains out of my sheets and pillowcases plus the smell don't come out, never mind his breath! Another thing—he clips his toenails in bed too, the pieces get stuck in the blankets and those are some sharp buggers they ruined let me tell you many a romantic moment. Though those romantic moments don't come around so much anymore and there's this new habit he's picked up of talking in his sleep and calling out Oy, Roxy! Oy, Jovanna! Oy, Anna Paula! But my name's Tammy, so I need to know your opinion on this. Do you think something fishy's going on?

Desperately yours,

Tammy B. Derryberry

***

My Dear Ms. Derryairy.

This is obviously a fishy case. In fact, I suspect that your "sweetie" is a seal, and of course, there's a strong possibility he's swimming in some other fool's pool. Just kidding, Ms. Merrylerry. What with things as odious as they are these days, incipient fascism and the Church (eg, that bishop is such a prudish pill!), I have to let off steam so I don't boil over and mess up the beige living room carpet, though it was never my idea to get a beige carpet in the first place; but never mind, that's another story. If you really intend to keep the uncouth thing, despite those habits, I would at least suggest a behavior modification specialist. My cousin Alfred in Bora Bora has cured many men of disgusting habits. I'm not permitted to reveal his secret, but it has something to do with oil slicks.

Let me tell you frankly, Ms. Verryberry. My delectable but essentially tough Irish stew, Jack the Journeyman, strayed, as many a journeyman does. So I baited my hook to reel him back home where the fires were burning, so to speak (ah, youth). I dressed up as a man and hung around some foul smelling pubs, let me tell you. It was at the Alms Last Chance that I discovered this damsel Delilah, with big red Texas hair and hands like an orangutan's. It wasn't difficult to understand why Jack had strayed. She knew what to do with those hands and I espied her doing so, under a table. So I hired a hitman to chop off her hands and I put them on. The rest is history.

If this strategy doesn't work, I'd suggest kicking him out of the house and finding a cat to share your bed. Cats are cleaner than dogs and it's easy to clip their nails.

Verily yours,

Crazy Jane

************

Dear Crazy Jane:

I'm in a real pickle. I've been dating this girl, who we'll call Penny, for the past three years. Well Penny has three sisters all four of them are close in age and they all live with their mother.... Anyways, it seems I have trouble keeping my hands to myself and over the past three years I've had some, shall we say, some intimate intimacies with all three sisters and the mother....but I love Penny, and all of them are threatening to divulge my secret...so what's a guy like I to do...should I fess up to Penny before I get ratted out, or should I just leave town and start all over somewhere else, or should I just get myself fixed?

Perplexed,

JL

***

Dear JL:

You're vinegar before your time, young man. You're going to end up in more than a pickle by 30 at the rate you're going, you Dill, is what I mean to say. Meaning of course, to be totally explicit, you're going to be pickled as opposed to tickled pink by all of your egotistical enlarged penis exploits. Try Viagra Falls , a most spiritually cleansing experience. You foolish young man! In the orderly animal kingdom, even some species of birds don't have such problems – they mate for life. And they're flighty!

It's crystal clear to Crazy Jane that you're in dire need of impulse control therapy before one of those sisters or maybe two of them beat you to death with umbrellas in justifiable rage. Now, I'm only saying this for your own sake, my dear. My darling Jack was like that of course, and I cured him for once and all. Not that I had sisters, mind you, but that Bishop had lots of sisters flocking around Jack in the Bishop's flock; they were not always faithful to Jesus, you know. That's an old story I won't get into, as these issues are delicate and I am wizened and sunstruck from experience. Suffice it to say, I got myself to a nunnery and the rest is history.

So --- a Penny gained is a Penny earned, meaning you must earn your Penny. She will indeed discover your perfidiousness if you persist on this ridiculous course. So own up to your frailty, be contrite and please her on your knees, as every good lover should please his maid.

Verily yours,

Crazy Jane

************

Dear Crazy Jane,

I heard about this English millionairess woman marrying a dolphin named Cindy who was a male despite the stupid name and this was somewhere in the Middle East, I think it was Israel, yeah, Israel. And they kissed and she gave him a herring and she even wore a white wedding gown. And he looked real sweet and adorable and funny, like other dolphins I seen on tv and I fell in love with him myself. But of course he's married and I don't do that sort of thing.

Now I want to know how I can meet a dolphin like this Cindy to marry because I'm totally fed up with men. The ones I know, like my ex, are mostly barracudas, sharks and eels, sometimes minnows, if you get my drift, hehe. And I hear dolphins are real smart, a hell of a lot smarter than the bimboons I've known. So I want to know how I can meet such a guy dolphin because I don't live nowhere near dolphins and I don't have the money to go to the Middle East. I tried a google, but didn't find nothing. just lots of things about how nasty people are killing dolphins all over the place which made me cry, so I want to save at least one of them.

Please help! I'm desperate!

Stella Mare

Katahoochee Creek, Mo.

***

Dear Stella:

I can't say I blame you one bit for wanting to marry a dolphin. For one thing, they're a lot easier to abide than a man. They're clean, funny, not at all petty or controlling, and they don't spit on sidewalks. Plus, they're the most good natured creatures on the planet. So I'm with you, sister. I knew a dolphin once, one of my first loves actually. He used to kid around and call me Doll, so I'd call him Fin, and one night we had shore dinner with Mark Twain and W. B. and one of his faeries and I think we all ate herrings and seaweed soup with caviar blinis, but that's a long time ago, way before I met Jack and got into trouble with the Church, but that's another story.

You need help, you poor dear. Well, Crazy Jane has come up with an answer. Check out the new dating/matchmaking website, Dolphins are We (www.dolphinsrwe.net) to find an array of lorn of love ELIGIBLE dolphins, each with his own blog, ipod, and photo album. I spoke with the founder of the website, Iva Purpoise. The site's been up for only a week, and they already have 78,997 subscribers! And – get this. They guarantee that you'll meet at least three suitable males per month, even if you're hopelessly landlocked; they'll arrange for discount travel plus the resort of your choice. This is a bargain at only 50 herrings a month plus shipping costs -- you must admit!

So, good luck, my dear, and do keep me up to date about your dates!

Verily yours,

Crazy Jane

************

Dear Crazy Jane,

I'm still hopelessly in love with my hermit crab though I'm sure from his point of view, it's all over between us. He caught me cheating with my deck of cards, whom I also loved but was not IN love with, as I've tried to make Pinchy understand.

I just can't imagine life without Pinchy. Lately he's withdrawn into a shell. I tried tempting him out with fresh red leaf lettuce, hoping he'd notice the symbolism of the color but to no avail. I sent him a Miss You snail mail with the poem I printed in very small letters so he wouldn't have to crawl far to read it all.

Yesterday, to prove my love, I burned each and every one of Decky's picture cards! Those screams will remain in my memory forever. Pinchy jumped up and down with glee, his sexy little claws tapping away on the table top like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Donald O'Connor. I imagined those pinchers on my body, giving me that special pain, but when I reached for him, Pinchy just withdrew back into his shell. I thought I heard him mutter, "It won't work -- I want an annulment."

I'm so unhappy. Please, Crazy Jane, what should I do to save our marriage?

Your sad fan,

Becky P.

***

Dear Becky,

Hermit crabs are a practical unknown to me. Indeed, I have never had the occasion to cultivate an intimate relationship with one; they are much too introverted for my taste. On the other hand, oysters and a conch . . . but I digress and that's neither here nor there nor anywhere but the murky past for that matter. You're in pain.

It seems to me that it might well be worth your while to abandon thoughts of reconciliation with Pinchy. It is obvious that he has a passive-aggressive personality, no doubt stemming from childhood power struggles with a controlling, angry, and perhaps psychotic parent. He is therefore hopelessly hostile and shell-shocked, incapable of the passionate intimate relationship you so desire. Did you ask yourself why you had the affair with Decky's cards? It would behoove you to conduct some constructive self-examination and objective scrutiny of his behavior toward you. According to scientific studies, hermit crabs are generally tough, and they make negligent, uncaring spouses; their communication skills are underdeveloped, and they are often absent. But the bottom line, hook and sinker is that this husband of yours is enjoying making you suffer for your one hapless, orgiastic indiscretion, and his cruelty at the demise of Decky's cards is appalling.

So Crazy Jane enquires: who needs this excrement? Love may pitch her mansion in its place, but there comes a time when war-torn lovers must evacuate the mansion and go their separate ways. I would definitely keep the house, as he has his.

Verily yours,

Crazy Jane

************

Crazy Jane thanks Donia Carey (aka Tammy B. Derryberry), Paul Slapion (aka JL), and Rich Andrews (aka Becky P.) for contributing three of the letters in this season's column. Readers may write to Crazy Jane c/o madhattersreview@gmail.com. Place "Ask Crazy Jane" in the subject line of your email.


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The Modern Buckaroos' Guide to the Western World, Graphic by Shirley Harshenin
The Modern Buckaroos' Guide to the Western World

 

Dear Buckaroos and Buckarettes,

The Cowboy Way beats in every pulse on Wall Street. It provides the image of the quick-draw to gangland culture. It lends patience to truckers on the highway-range. It supports both wilderness conservation efforts and oil-drilling proposals. It lies within every cowboy boot sale from Dress Barn to Tony Lama to Lucchese. It prompts foreign policy and domestic gun laws. Like it or not, the Cowboy Way can explain What the Hell Is Going On. Point in fact lies below: a little something I call “He’s Got Teddy, or How to Tell the Difference Between a Rough Rider and a Rough Ride.”

Bonanza! Front page center on a December 18, 2005 Sunday New York Times: President Bush on page one, beneath the glowing misty-memory image of a heroic cowboy on a rearing horse. Interesting backdrop for the current president, his pink brow furrowed earnestly, mouth open in mid-vowel as he defends domestic spying.

The wagon-wheels of my mind begin turning. What in tarnation is going on here? Is this yet another instance of the Cowboy Way being used to pump up the volume? Why, yes it is, and brilliant, brilliant, brilliant of him to use the image of not just any cowpoke but The Man Who Embodies the Cowboy Way, the Teddy Bear, and Big Stick Diplomacy. Yes, Mr. Bush is channeling a powerful avatar in Theodore Roosevelt.

Get this: Mid-nineteenth century, a nearsighted, asthmatic weakling works out, becomes buff. As a wealthy Eastern jim-dandy, he goes West-young-man to play cowboy with expensive clothes, horses, and guns, hiring hunting guides and ranch foremen to teach him the ropes. When the dude finally earns the respect of the Westerners, his cattle dies with most other ranchers’ herds in the big blizzarding of 1886-87. He is one of them now, but he moves back East where people swoon over his physique and charisma. I believe “kingly” and “peerless” were adjectives used. Word is, he’s a fucking Cowboy, and everyone wants to be him.

Our hero makes a name for himself as police commissioner of New York (note: “Big Stick” quote originates in the wild NYC streets); he is elected governor of New York. In the Spanish-American War, he leads a group of cowboys, Indians, and football players up Kettle Hill in a daring if near-suicidal charge. Presidential historians know that our hero, during a short tenure as vice-president of the USA, was mountain climbing in the Adirondacks when he learned that McKinley had been assassinated. Enter the 26th President, who is soon projected into cowboy-soldier-hero stardom. Some of what T. Roosevelt did was quite heroic; he subdued monopolies and pork-belly politicians, riding herd on them until they broke for the hills. “Is there any law that prevents me from doing this?” he asked one of his advisors, as he was about to sign acres of Florida lands into a national wildlife sanctuary. The answer was “No,” and he briskly added those acres to the nearly 230 million that he made into federally protected lands during his presidency. If that’s not all, despite his “Big Stick” foreign policy, he won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Does President #43 know all this? I suspect not. More reason why The Cowboy should only be invoked with proper supervision. Nevertheless, what is done is done, and interesting similarities come to light with only a little more cowpoking around: TR also liked to hang around the ranch (but only after efficiently completing all of his presidential duties by early afternoon with “shoot-from-the-hip” dispatch). TR also perceived business opportunities in other countries’ rebellions, and he also seemed to view moral complexity with disdain.

Like every other mythic cowboy, TR was and is the embodiment of the cowboy-soldier hero, ready to stand and fight against savagery and greed, thereby freeing us townsfolk from the ineffectual equivocations of dudes who get all tangled up in the trappings of laws and convention. Borrowing TR’s buckskinned image for a backdrop is asking for a blessing from the cowboy-deity, or permission to use the resonant chords of homeland security to prompt people to draw their wagons instinctively into a circle. Ask no questions. Your safety is at stake.

Well, bully for them, because the informed buckaroo and buckarette can discern when the wholesome Cowboy Way is being subverted for nefarious purposes. They can raise the alarm when the collective American chain is being yanked. Lastly, they now know whom to thank for both glorious national parks and the Marlboro Man, and it sure ain’t the 43rd President, as much as he would like it to be.

Yours in Western Wear,

E. “Bucko” Smith

 

Is someone you know appropriating or channeling the Cowboy (or girl) Way? Do you suspect “It” at work within political stratagems, workplace intrigues, fashion statements, or advertising? Readers may send Cowboy Way sightings, requests for investigations, or comments to madhattersreview@gmail.com, subject line: Freezebucko. These may be published, but definitely the best sighting will receive an official “Freeze, Bucko!” sheriff’s badge.


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Mad Hatters' Indaba
Mad Hatters' Indaba

MHR's South African editor Liesl Jobson is a former police officer in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 

Mad Myths: Bad Men, Sad Kids and Complicit Women

The police captain and I hurtled through Soweto one summer morning before the rain had started. I wished the police van had seat belts. I was a nervous passenger knowing that our rickety vehicle should have been boarded six months previously. We were going to visit a co-worker dying of AIDS.

Did we say the word AIDS? No. Did we discuss South Africa’s world-leading rate of new HIV infections? No. We criticised neither the Minister of Health’s tardy Anti-Retroviral rollout, nor the President’s claim to know nobody who’d died of AIDS. Neither did we reflect on the astonishing silence on the topic in our respective black and white communities. We also did not discuss the ‘Virgin Cure’ where HIV positive men will rape a virgin to remedy the ailment.

We did not talk about the scourge because we were typical South Africans, in denial about the topic.

What were the police captain and I talking about? We updated the litany of scandals occurring in our unit: Inspector X arrested for failure to pay maintenance to his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends raising his offspring. We gossiped about Sergeant Y, a lazy drunk, who slouches into the shebeen every morning on “stress” leave, drinking away a good State salary. We relished the news of Superintendent Z, investigated for fraud but who hadn’t been suspended, nor would he be.

The captain drove fast, bumping the vehicle over potholes in the gravely road. Suddenly he braked, struck the hooter and shouted obscenities out the open window. The van stopped just in front of a year-old baby crawling across the street. It sat on its naked rump and howled in terror. The captain hooted until a sleepy woman dawdled out rubbing her eyes, her night scarf in disarray. She picked up the child, slapped the dust off its backside and turned up her nose at the officer’s chastising in angry Sotho.

The captain was livid. I listened to his soliloquy as we juddered along: “You see our women? They do not look after our children. They cry when police vehicles hit their kids, they sue the State, but they don’t even keep their brats off the road. They cry when men rape their kids, but they don’t look after them. Why was that baby in the road? It was hungry. It wanted food from the neighbour. That lazy bitch hasn’t even fed her child this morning. I promise you.”

His rant had only just begun.

“You white people don’t know our women. Black women can be evil. When someone wants to revenge her husband, or is bored and wants to get rid of him, she pushes her fingers inside her own child, to tear the vagina, so the husband will sit in jail.”

I sputtered my shock and horror, hardly containing my disbelief.

“You know nothing at all,” he said with a mirthless cackle. You don’t believe me, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

What do I know? Statistics don’t support the captain’s claim, but paint a dark picture nevertheless.

The 16 Days Against Gender Violence and Child Abuse campaign commenced last November – a well-intentioned attempt by Government to raise consciousness concerning the scourge of abuse. It was regrettably undermined by the embarrassing actions of high-profile leaders and celebrities who were brought to book for rape and domestic abuse charges.

Soccer star, Benedict Vilakazi, charged with the rape of a 15-year-old girl, admitted in court that he had had unprotected sex with her. The South African envoy to Palestine was recalled after being accused of raping a Filipino maid in his official residence. The former Vice-President Jacob Zuma was charged with rape and in a fourth case, a high profile businessman was charged with domestic violence.

Headlines blared the shocking news. TV hosts glittered with anger. Radio talk shows commiserated with victims of domestic violence. Callers castigated community leaders who abuse. Men were vilified and women expressed their collective fury. It was 16 days of shrieking outrage and righteous indignation.

Alarm bells rang.

I thought about the captain’s rage against the women in his community and re-examined his accusation. What I know is that women abandoned to care for small children alone are vulnerable to failure of reason, and that the breakdown of traditional family structures heightens that vulnerability. I also know that individually and collectively, we do not always do right by our children.

I personally know the power of my tongue to mock, ridicule and deride. I know my own capacity to taunt, provoke and infuriate. Three months after my wedding I realised I’d made a serious mistake, but it took me fifteen years to leave.

At the start of the 16 Days campaign, I was interviewed on “Otherwise”, a daily women’s radio programme, as I had recently won the POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) Women’s Writing Poetry Competition.

The interviewer asked whether my poetry focused on issues of domestic violence. I began explaining how poetry is part of a healing process through which I explore my own complicity in the negative patterns I sustain and enable.

“Let’s not talk about that,” she said, and proceeded to drive the interview in another, seemingly safer direction.

I am disappointed that I didn’t get behind the wheel to steer the conversation back to the matter of women’s responsibility, because until I acknowledged how I perpetuated and tolerated a negative situation, I could not end or leave it.

Alarm bells ring when men like the captain are rendered too defensive and paranoid to engage in discussion. In particular, it is important to connect with men like the captain, and hold them in dialogue because high levels of domestic violence perpetrated by police and servicemen is a global phenomenon.

The crime of rape cuts through every societal structure on the globe, but cuts perhaps a deeper wound where HIV/AIDS is rampant and rising, and where infants and the elderly are rape targets too. The callousness and the frequency with which this dehumanising act is committed are utterly incomprehensible in a so-called civilisation. Every attempt to curb it must be made.

Separate, but interlinked, is the issue of domestic abuse, where the issues are often muddy and complex patterns of dependency are enacted. It is too easy to take the moral high ground and offer prescriptive and simplistic solutions. Nobody wants that.

I can speak from limited personal experience: for me to end an abusive co-dependent relationship I had to take ownership of my own contribution to it. I had to move beyond victimhood and claim the strength and courage that would power the transition. I also acknowledge that I speak from the position of relative financial and educational privilege that the majority of my black sisters do not enjoy.

During the campaign, I witnessed a disturbing tone of accusation and blame. I heard men vilified and demonised, disparaged and belittled. This trend doesn’t feel like a step towards the meeting of women’s needs. It is imperative that men are engaged in the dialogue without being emasculated or disregarded. When men are silenced and humiliated, the debate ceases and so does the progress towards an end to violence.

Two positive political developments suggest a significant shift is underway in African thinking: the election of Ellen Johnson-Surleaf the first African woman as President of Liberia and the appointment of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as South Africa’s Deputy-President.

It is my profound hope that these strong female leaders set the tone for African women to revisit the myths that keep them disempowered and afraid. It is time to reconsider how we raise our sons. It is time for women seeking to restore and heal themselves, their families and their continent to talk to each other – and to their men folk – in a way that facilitates mutual growth and respect.

Until we support each other across the divides of race, class, tribe, gender and HIV status, in a compassionate dialogue with reverence for all humanity’s suffering, there can be no hope of South African infants and women escaping the supreme indignities of rape and domestic violence.

Let the indaba begin.

Readers may send comments to madhattersreview@gmail.com, Subject line: Mad Hatters' Indaba. Comments may be published.

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