Who’s Having So Much Fun?: An Interview with Courtney Maum
Courtney Maum and I met in 2011 at a reading we were taking part in for Slice Magazine. I remember being pulled into her work (about a fetus nonetheless), the way a person is magnetized by sounds new to him—how her style traversed terrains of seriousness, levity, humor, and unabashed honesty. Maum’s debut novel I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You tells the story of British-born artist Richard Haddon, who is reevaluating his career, his flapping marriage, and memories of his American mistress while living and working in Paris. When “The Blue Bear,” a painting Haddon had made out of pure love and anticipation for his child miraculously sells, these reevaluations conjure Richard into a rebirth of sorts, and Maum parses them with shockingly original intellect, humor, and wit.
Maum has been doing ‘writerly’ advice columns for Tin House for almost three years now, among them “6 Ways Reading Series Can Improve Your Writing” and “How Not To Hate Your Friends,” examples of her sensible approach to uprightness in others and her own writing. And, as if to give herself a playful pat on the back, Maum is responsible for the hilarious “Celebrity Book Review” series on Electric Literature, a refreshing, often mocking imagining of celebrities writing book reviews–my favorite is John Malkovich.
Maum and I shared words over email, and I was gratified by her openness and frankness with which she sees fiction and real life.
Tin House Reels: Orland Nutt
Orland Nutt makes short films that are intended to “transport the viewer to somewhere no one else can take them.” Drawing inspiration from poets, dancers, TV personalities, and other experimental filmmakers, Nutt creates something new and wonderfully bizarre.For this week’s Tin House Reels, we’re happy to share Nutt’s short I am Into Your Fire, which is a collaboration with actress Amanda Riley and composer Matt Marble. Riffing off part III of the poem “Aisles of Eden” by James Broughton, a mountain woman tells of her passionate love, while diving through and igniting what Nutt calls a “psychedelic mountainscape.”
On using poems as the backbone of his shorts, Nutt says, “A great poem doesn’t really need a video made from it. When I choose to make a video from a poem, it’s because I think there is something there that I can strongly relate to and because I think I can add a new spin on it, offering a new meaning or interpretation. I don’t want to change the meaning of the poems I work with, but to change the context, and the world that they reflect upon.”
Tin House Reels: Seungah Yoo
This week’s Tin House Reels feature, Cactus Flower, portrays a love between two men whose relationship seems defined by a settling mutual calm. Seungha Yoo uses no dialogue in his film but casts mood changes with the smallest interruptions of daily life: a coffee maker percolating, the scratch of a television set, the ocean at the shore. Despite his protagonists’ consistent emotional stillness, Yoo’s film is affecting. Like the work of Maira Kalman, Yoo’s animation finds meaning in the mundane acts of city life.
“There is no enthusiastic expression of their love in this piece,” Yoo told us. “But I think this is also one form of love…a couple who are so natural for each other so they don’t even have to express their love loudly.”
Salinger and Sobs
In the days immediately after my brother killed himself I’d go into the backyard and lie on our picnic table and watch the November wind bend the branches of a tall fir tree across the street. Really hard gusts would shake loose a raucous band of black crows and send them wheeling into the sky. They’d caw and cackle and circle and resettle and rise again, crowing, I guess, a noisy mocking counterpart to the flock of strangers in funerary black who’d shown up to bury my brother. About a week after Danny’d put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger and a couple days after his lame orthodox funeral at our childhood church, I went for a walk along a street of patched potholes that runs around Lake Union (near where, a year or so into the future, a future I was sure had ended tragically the night Danny shot himself, my other brother Mike would pull a similar stunt, jumping off the Aurora Bridge and living to tell about it, thus revealing to me the comic, the vaudevillian underside of suicide), and saw a scavenging crow jabbing its beak into the breast of an injured robin. The robin had probably first been hit by a car. It was flipped on its back and badly maimed, but it wasn’t carrion quite yet. One wing was pinned to its breast and the other flapped furiously in a useless struggle for flight and thus the bird, still fiercely instinctive, only managed to spin around in circles like the arrow you flick with your finger in a game of chance. The robin was fully alive, but it was caught in a futile hope, and I knew this, and the crow knew this, and while the crow taunted the bird, hopping down from its perch on a nearby fence, pecking at the robin, returning to his roost, waiting, dropping down and attacking again, I stood off to the side of the road and watched.
Your Weekly Forecast: James Russell Lowell
Now on the hills I hear the thunder mutter,
The wind is gathering in the west;
The upturned leaves first whiten and flutter,
Then droop to a fitful rest;
Up from the stream with sluggish flap
Struggles the gull and floats away;
Nearer and nearer rolls the thunder-clap,—
We shall not see the sun go down to-day:
Now leaps the wind on the sleepy marsh,
And tramples the grass with terrified feet,
The startled river turns leaden and harsh,
You can hear the quick heart of the tempest beat
Poem for Wine
We’re all emerging from whatever reclusive hole we burrowed into after the end of our Writer’s Workshop, facing the light of day with bleary eyes, wondering who these strangers are who walk the streets. When we close our eyes, though, we still see visions of debauchery and beauty in equal measure. We’ll let workshop faculty member Matthew Zapruder explain it, with his poem “Poem for Wine” from Issue 49, The Ecstatic.
Rumpus Interview with Lacy Johnson
Fantastic interview with Lacy Johnson and Melissa Chadburn!
"Johnson’s memoir is an extraordinary document, and she herself holds an important place in a movement to stop violence against women."
Alphas & Omegas, Fathers & Sons: A Conversation with Scott Cheshire
I first became familiar with Scott Cheshire’s writing through a very funny essay he’d written called “The Good, the Bad and Bumping Uglys”the tagline for which read: “Some thoughts on masturbation, Norman Mailer, and the Good Book.” Everything you ever wanted to know about Scott but were afraid to ask might well be contained in it. Which is to say that I was somewhat familiar with the basics of Scott’s biography—being raised in a Jehovah’s Witness household, his time spent giving sermons as an adolescent—when his galley arrived last fall. Unlike that essay, however, the novel seemed so serious, dark and full of apocalyptic wonder—just consider the cover itself, the flames!—a contrast to what I’d read earlier. And I slowly came to realize that this is one Scott’s strengths as writer, and as a person: the balancing act between the light and the dark.