Suburban Diaspora Volume One is now live. We hope that you enjoy some of the amazing work that’s been collected for this issue, including fiction from Andrew Farkas, poetry from Karen Craigo, and an interview with author/poet/translator extraordinaire Okla Elliot. Our next issue is planned for Summer 2016, and we are currently accepting submissions. Happy holidays from our editors, and thank you to the writers and poets that made this issue possible.
Below is the cover for Suburban Diaspora: Volume One. It will be released in December. Cover art by Charli Barnes.
Our next entry this week is an interview with Chris Clavin of Plan-it-X Records, an independent, non-profit music label.
Plan-it-X Records will always have a special place in my heart, as I imagine it has in the hearts of a lot of Midwestern kids who grew up wanting more from their cultural experience than what the radio and MTV (when it still showed music videos) had to offer. Founded by Samantha Dorsett and Chris Clavin in 1994, Plan-it-X started as a non-profit tape label, taking the business aspect of the music scene out of the equation to create a purely cultural experience. They dubbed tapes at $1 each and sold them at the same price – as they would say in the Plan-it-X family, “if it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punx!” The label and its philosophy certainly grew, but over the years, the collective has managed to maintain its anti-capitalist, DIY, personal experience and feel. No one signs anything, no one is trying to get rich. Plan-it-X is about making good music with good people and sharing that experience with friends. I’ve been lucky enough to go to a house show or two to watch P.I.X. bands play – the warm, inclusive atmosphere is unforgettable. It truly is a musical experience in a way that a show in a huge venue never could be. There is a feeling of, “hey, I’m a part of this” rather than, “I’m allowed to be here because I paid someone $50,” and everyone really rises to the occasion, turning a dingy basement into a safe space where shy people can jump around and be sweaty with 25 of their closest strangers and feel like they’re in a room with only their oldest friends. I was lucky enough to interview Chris Clavin when he released his first Secret Sailor book, Free Pizza for Life, and I feel even luckier to have been able to interview him again for SD. Here’s what he had to say about the label, the press, and his festival philosophy.
STEPH: First, introduce us to Plan-it-X Records. Give the reader an idea of the scope of the projects you guys take on, and what kind of music you put out. Also, talk about the philosophy behind the label, and what DIY and punk mean to you.
CHRIS: Plan-it-X is a small DIY record label that started in 1994 as a joke. I was playing in a band and we recorded a demo and we made 50 copies on cassette. We thought it would look more like a real release if there was a record label on the back, so my friend Samantha drew a logo and wrote “Plan-it-X Records” under it. That is how it started. Over the years it slowly became a semi-real record label, but it’s still mostly for fun.
STEPH: At what point did you decide to cross over from a music fan to a musician? What made you want to take your cultural experience into your own hands and found a record label?
CHRIS:I guess when I went on my first tour in 1996. We played with a band called the Bananas from Sacramento and I wanted to buy one of their albums but they didn’t have one. I thought it was shocking. I told them how cheap it was to make CDs. They didn’t seem interested in self-releasing, so we asked them if Plan-it-X could release an album for them. They said yes. I think that’s what made us a real label, since before that we only released my own band’s music. Sometimes people asked why we started Plan-it-X and I like to say that we did it because no other label would ever release my band. It’s true.
STEPH: I know Samantha played a huge role in the founding of the label, and in the eventual founding of the press – I thought it would be good to introduce the reader to Samantha, to give them a sense of what her message was (and is!), and how she still shapes the label to this day. Talk a little about who she was, and how she brought Plan-it-X to life.
CHRIS: She was the coolest and weirdest and wildest person I have ever known or will ever know I think. She coined the phrase “If it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punk,” which became the main statement of the label. We were both kind of disgusted at how punk was mostly just a capitalist money-making scheme to sell the idea of rebellion and resistance. We thought it should be way more than that. It meant much more to us. Sam also thought it was weird that punks claim to be a community and just a big group of friends but sold things to each other for way more than they needed to charge. We decided to try to sell things for the price we needed to survive and make our money back, not the price we could get or the price accepted as the standard. Sam lost interest in running the label after a few years but I was hooked. P.I.X. would have never existed without her.
STEPH: The music scene was a lot different in the ‘90s than it is today – can you talk a little about what the DIY music scene was like in the beginning, the ways Plan-it-X has grown as the scene has grown, and the ways you guys have endeavored to stay the same?
CHRIS: I would say it was much, much smaller when we started, or at least it was harder to find each other, which is good and bad. Now it’s easy to self-release and self-promote and have a web presence. The bad part is everyone looks the same on Facebook. It’s hard to tell if a band is even a real band or just a page online. However, touring and meeting people and things like that are so much easier now and I guess I’m grateful. I do think that we have lost some of the magic of discovery though.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about Plan-it-X Fest. I was lucky enough to attend last year, but had to leave pretty early for crummy health reasons. It looked like an amazing festival full of warm, happy people just eager to share music with one-another. Can you talk a little bit about the philosophy behind the festival, and what it means for the Plan-it-X family?
CHRIS: Well, I have always been against the idea of doing a fest, since I think DIY music is best enjoyed in a small setting. The bands on P.I.X. are the kind of bands you want to see in a basement or a backyard, not up on a stage with hundreds of people. It’s not my thing and I don’t think it’s the ideal experience for many of the P.I.X. bands or P.I.X. fans. But, one night we were thinking about how much fun it would be to get all of our friends together in one place. It seemed like a fun thing to do. But still, a fest is a bad idea, we decided. Then we thought about how many people would come and how we could use the fest as a way to raise funds for important grass roots groups. So we decided to do it for the 10th anniversary. It was great and we raised $8000 for charity after paying 100% of our expenses and paying all the touring bands. We’ve done a few of them now, not every summer since it’s too much work and I think it would lose its magic. The last one, 2014, raised $24,000 for charity. So in short, we do it so that we can hang out with our friends and raise money for good causes.
STEPH: How do you find new bands and musicians to add to the Plan-it-X family? What kinds of people are you looking for, and where do you come across them?
CHRIS: I usually find new bands when I play with them on tour and we hang out. I almost exclusively release bands that are my friends.
STEPH: What made you decide to launch a Plan-it-X-affiliated press, and do you have any books in the works right now?
CHRIS: Well, I wrote a book, and just like starting a record label, I knew no one else would publish it so I did it myself and it was fun. So, I started publishing my friends’ books too. Currently I’m working on a book about living in Cairo, Illinois. We tried to start a punk rock utopia there. It failed. I think it will make a good read.
STEPH: Talk a little bit about Tour Sucks – what made you decide to put that project together, what shape did the project end up taking, and what did you hope to bring to the DIY music community with these tour stories?
CHRIS: Basically, on tour I always end up swapping crazy/bad stories from tour. They are more fun than good stories. No one wants to hear about how you played a big show and how much people liked you and how you got free pizza after the show. They want to hear about your van breaking down in the middle of Wyoming and how you had to hitchhike 50 miles to a truck stop. So I thought it would be cool to collect these kinds of stories. Sadly, so many of my friends that have great stories were too lazy to write them. But we got quite a few good ones though.
STEPH: Chaos Fest wasn’t too long ago – give the reader an idea of the different kinds of events that go on across Bloomington, and tell them how they might get involved next year!
CHRIS: The idea is just that we get all the DIY show/event organizers to book something/anything on the same weekend, so it’s like a fest but no one person has too much control or responsibility. Mostly, again, it’s just a trick to get our friends to come to town and hang out. That’s what most of our schemes are about. We probably won’t do one next year, since we are doing another Plan-it-X fest in 2016. But it will probably happen again, sometime.
STEPH: What other events and projects do you guys have in store this summer? Let the reader know where they can find you, and what awesome music they can look forward to hearing!
CHRIS: I’m taking it kinda easy this summer. I’ll be writing and recording a new Ghost Mice album. I’ll hopefully get some progress made on the book about Cairo and I hope to start at least 3 new bands this summer. You can find us on FB and at www.plan-it-x.com.
You can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spotlight written by Stephanie Marker
After a brief, unexpected hiatus, Suburban Diaspora’s blog is back this week with three entries to catch us up. These entries will be on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The first entry is on the poetry chapbook Alice in Greenpoint by Iva Ticic from Finishing Line Press, available for pre-order now for its August 14th release date.
The speaker of these poems is honed and honing, marked by an incisive sensuality and intensive attention to quiet domestic details—the smell of spring onions and horseradish, the contours of the surface of an avocado—and also by a hunger, a homeless yearning for a landscape and an identity that she can claim. Even in the familiar spaces in which many of the poems in the first section of the collection, “Listening to the Wind Argue with Frost,” are set, the speaker feels alien, acutely aware of the strangeness that defamiliarizes her own home and her own body, especially in the poems that conclude this section. For example, in “It Is a Joy to Be Hidden, but a Disaster not to Be Found” (the title of which quotes D.W. Winnicott), Ticic’s speaker explores this strangeness, even embracing it by incorporating it into a game, into play:
I am playing hide and seek with myself
in this house where the walls have started leaking
with hollow discontent.
There are so many spots
where I have hidden,
deceiving the opponent
by singing in the oven
and cooking in the bathtub.
Ready or not:
here comes nothingness.
The speaker’s sense of foreignness extends beyond the circumscribed worlds of the body or of the home in “Night Terror,” into the astral and the mythic:
Out of the grainy delicate film of darkness,
a wide-mouthed serpent descends.
She pushes at air, trying to swallow
the moon as a host, render the blackness complete.
My eyes: all sockets and balls,
bulging cranberries in hour of ripeness.
In the second half of the collection, “The Strange Weight,” the speaker’s sense of her own identity gradually transitions from that of foreigner to that of pioneer. Translation, transposition, and transcription are crucial to the geographical and psychological shifts that move these poems. The longing for belonging in this section is perhaps strongest in its first poem, “The Interpreter,” in which the speaker introduces these modes of translation as means of entering—music, conversation, interactions, relationships:
I want to live in the hollow
of your Steinway piano.
Right there beneath the
slender silk of peeled ebony.
I want to become
a part of your conversation
between the pulse
of your fingertip symphony
and the dignified elephant
which you saddle and tame.
I want to learn the dialects
of this foreign arena.
Poignantly, in the following poem, “Faint Relatives or Failing at Translation,” Ticic explores the gaps in meaning between words translated between her first and second languages, Croatian and English, and the speaker, musing on the word “lark,” or “ševa,” acknowledges the limits of translation in transferring meaning and offering a sense of belonging or citizenship:
My people—who are my people?—have squinted their eyes for so long that a songbird translates to fucking. This has never made sense to me. To make songbirds taboo eventually results in people’s throats hardening. It creates the perfect aphasia.
The limits of translation become even more apparent to her when she compares the connotations of the English “passion” with the Croatian “strast” in an arresting meditation:
The word that does not translate. When entering a Slavic mouth it becomes somehow sexual, a provocation. The wandering hand underneath a Sunday tablecloth, freshly pressed, sunflowers at its center. The whisper of excitement among lovers. Only a faint relative to the Anglophone promise of greatness. As if that to believe in something, anything—could never be innocent.
Language proves an undeniable barrier for the speaker of the poems in Alice in Greenpoint, but by the collection’s conclusion, she has learned that where she cannot translate, she can transcend, and that language, poetry, offers that transcendence. “The poem is the testament,” she asserts in the final section of the closing poem “We Have Traveled So Far, Only to Come Home,” leaving the reader with this:
All of the body is built on the past—
the chipped-at collisions and inward worm-holes
yet I use it to transport the delicate load
wondering often of how I’ve arrived.
Oh, do not ask me if Mars / is an ethical place.
Let those who must go carry the strange weight
of all that was left
and of how to return.
The speaker has traveled—and arrived—and returned. She has translated. And she has testified.
Alice in Greenpoint is available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press’s website.
Review by Billie Tadros
Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. This week we’ll take a look at an older novel: The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert, published by Unbridled Books in 2011.
The Coffins of Little Hope raises many questions, including those about small towns, the media, and perception in general. The novel is the fourth from Timothy Schaffert, and it is told from the perspective of an octogenarian obituary writer in small Nebraskan town. Working for a family newspaper that is now owned and operated by her grandson, Esther Myles tells the stories of the dead. In fact, the novel itself is written as a seeming tribute to a girl named Lenore, who may or may not have been conjured by her mother Daisy in a moment of emotional distress. The question of whether Lenore is real or not becomes one of the central questions of the novel as her presence, or lack thereof, brings revenue to a dying town.
The primary strengths of the novel lie in the ambiguity of the passages and the brevity of the chapters. Each short chapter—many are only two or three pages long—creates a guttural reaction within the reader, and those reactions lead to the reader drawing conclusions in a visceral and emotional way. Schaffert’s minimalist approach doesn’t leave much time for contemplation until after the book is finished, and it doesn’t rely on soaring prose or thesaurus language—it even makes fun of such approaches at one point in the text. Instead, Schaffert focuses on prying and mining the deepest relevance within the reader’s psyche. There’s no doubt in my mind that every reader of this novel would have a different experience, but each of those experiences would be powerful in their own way.
The thematic elements include small town identity, the role of the media in society, and even gender roles to a certain extent. Each of these themes is treated with a delicate hand, and Schaffert rarely puts all of his cards on the table. The pacing of the prose allows little room for error, with moods often set in a single sentence: “There’s a pioneer graveyard out in the country, one you have to know how to find, as it’s tucked far back off the road and hidden by the drape of overgrown weeping willows.” The decay of the small town is palpable in every word, and the fact that Lenore’s disappearance brings life to the town is both intriguing and appalling. The duality of the little girl’s disappearance is the central focus for much of the narrative, and Schaffert allows the reader only enough to make their own assumptions as to what has really happened.
The only criticism to levy against this novel in my estimation is that sometimes the pacing grows uneven in longer chapters. Needed moments of tension feel drawn out in comparison to the shorter sections, and it can lead to the chapters feeling much longer than they actually are. By the same token, a lot of these chapters are the most rewarding to read, because of the build to their climax, and it isn’t as if they are that much longer. No chapter within the novel extends past ten pages; they just seem long when juxtaposed with other chapters that are less than three pages long.
Criticism aside, Schaffert’s characters make the world of The Coffins of Little Hope a fascinating place. Whether you identify with the unconventional protagonist trying to find the truth, the grandson trying to fill the shoes of his father, or the great-granddaughter with identity issues, there are emotional connections to be made for most readers. The brush that paints these characters is subtle enough that every chapter is likely to give something to reflect over, and that alone makes this novel worth reading.
The Coffins of Little Hope is available at Unbridled Books’ website.
Review by Matt Kimberlin
Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. Normally, we shed spotlights on independent fiction, poetry, music, and video games. However, on fifth Mondays of the month we will have guest blogs dealing with our mission statement and blogs from our staff about the same topics: internet culture, suburbia, diasporic populations, or any combination of those. This week the founding editor will talk a little bit about internet citizenship, sharing a video from Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers. If you would be interested in writing one of these blog posts, check out our Submittable page. We do accept such work unsolicited. Thank you.
Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers made a video recently about how to be a citizen of the internet. It expands on Wheaton’s Law* and goes further in some regards, but the most interesting part of the video for me is the idea of citizenship of the internet. When creating Suburban Diaspora, there were a few concepts that were important in its inception. Placeless writing is the focus despite the fact that this concept is difficult to define. The idea of internet citizenship brings us closer to a working definition.
This journal was conceived originally as a space for people that fell through the cracks of regional journals. There are plenty of Midwestern, Southern, or otherwise placed journals out there in the internet ether. Our goal is to be a counterbalance to that. Green’s video definitely encapsulates the conceptual framework that we’re working with, so take this week off from our reviews to take a look at Green’s vlog. It’s definitely worth four minutes of your time.
As for the first issue, some technical difficulties will be pushing it back. We were hoping to have the issue released by the middle of July, but it looks like the beginning of August is going to be more realistic at this point. We are currently accepting submissions for the second issue. Our apologies for the delay. We’ll be back next week with more reviews of independent literature, music, and video games.
* Don’t be a dick. (We at Suburban Diaspora are strict adherents to this law.)
Post by Matt Kimberlin
Welcome to Suburban Diaspora’s blog. Every Monday we’ll be shedding a spotlight on independent fiction, poetry, music, and video games. The selections may be new or old, but all selections will be available for purchase with links at the end end of the review. This week we look at the independent video game DayZ from Bohemia Interactive.
As a lifelong gamer, there are moments throughout my life marked by singular gaming experiences. One of my first memories as a child was watching my siblings play Caveman Games on the NES which introduced the event of gaming. Then, the original Sonic the Hedgehog introduced the intensity that can be connected to the act of gaming. As a teenager, Final Fantasy VII introduced me to rich storytelling. Each of these moments stand out because they had an emotional and developmental impact on the way I understood this burgeoning digital medium. For many years, I didn’t have a new, singular gaming memory until DayZ. While this doesn’t mean that DayZ is a legendary game, it has produced a unique experience that I will remember for, hopefully, the rest of my life. DayZ introduced the complexity of human nature that can be found within a digital world. While still in Alpha, the game highlights some of the existential issues of boredom, meaning, absurdity, and human nature which leads players to create grand, self-imposed narratives.
DayZ is a post-apocalyptic, survival simulator. This identification needs to be understood if a player wants the most out of this game. The game does not provide any real objectives, so whenever a player’s character spawns on the coast of a fictional 225 square kilometer Russian territory called Chernarus with nothing but a shirt, shoes, pants, and a message telling the player how hungry he/she is, the only priority is survival. While the final version of the game will provide countless strategies for surviving, the player can currently find farming supplies (digging tool, seeds, water container, and fertilizer) to start a garden, find a cutting tool (or make a stone knife) and canned goods from the zombie infested cities scattered across the map, or hunt. As soon as the player can find these essentials, the real danger becomes present, other players.
I remember the first night I played and the first “stranger danger” moment accompanied by that experience. Just as the aforementioned games created an impression on my gaming life, the moment that my cousin and I, while scavenging a large storage shed, bumped into the first player we had ever seen. I’ll always remember the shouts of “Are you friendly!” and the adrenalin rush that followed.
In DayZ, the player is granted one life. If the player dies, the character respawns and the player must start the survival journey all over again. This large stakes mechanic makes a player question all other players. In a normal FPS, the player knows the goal is to kill as many enemies as possible, and if the player dies in the process there’s a small respawn timer that resets the fully geared player. In DayZ, going into combat makes the player risk hours, days, or weeks worth of work. I finally met my cousin after an hour of gameplay, and that encounter with a stranger might have meant retreading throughout the country side for another hour.
With our guns up, both parties ran into separate buildings and started shouting “I am friendly! Friendly, friendly, friendly! Are you friendly!?”. After the cacophony calmed, we shouted back and forth until agreeing upon terms of leaving with the understood truce that if we saw each other sneaking around, we would be forced to kill. Never in my life had I experienced that feeling in a game. But the existential questions about the game were still on the horizon.
With the lack of any long-term objective, questions of meaning and boredom start to rise up, and with it, the revelation of human nature. Once a player conquers the threat of dying from the elements, the game is relatively easy and habitual. This stage of the game leaves many players with the question, “What do I do now?” Some players decide to hide in popular areas to kill random passerbyers, but randomly killing unsuspecting players can only be fun for so long. With the lack of meaning, players started creating stories with the game. The server I play on is composed of a diversity of stories. There is the Cult of Papa, a player created group that takes players prisoner and offers seven of them up every so often. I don’t know much about them, and they seem very secretive (though you can find their videos on Youtube). Other players have created trade guilds. Since the game lacks any prescribed form of currency, this trade group offers O negative blood bags for goods and services. Other groups of players have created even darker narratives for their characters involving torture, rape, and cannibalism.
And while I used to believe that every player was a threat, narratives of community and altruism have also spawned. Players have created emergency medical groups that will drive around the very large map to fix broken legs, fight communicable diseases, and offer food, water and shelter to suffering players. The assortment of self-driven narratives guided by a search for meaning, just like in real life, creates an aura of paranoia, violence, and community. Every player encountered has the potential to ruin weeks’ worth of work or create friendships that help players shelter themselves against the rogue, violent player bandits roaming the map looking for violence to satiate their boredom.
It is important to note this game contains many glitches, bugs, some poor mechanics, and is known for its slow development, so it’s by no means perfect. But, if the player goes into the game understanding DayZ is a slow moving alpha with a lack of objectivity, I believe every player will find a unique experience, as long as they have the existential desire to create meaning within it.
DayZ is available for early access on Steam.
Review by Alex Pinnon