Between Love and Madness Lies Obsession: Conjunctions’ Issue Launch at McNally Jackson

1. “Would you rather get a pricker in your heart or in your heel?” a possible mistress texts an ex-con hubby in Edie Meidav’s fiction.

A record-breaking day — 98 degrees in Central Park — was only part of the fun during Thursday night’s reading of Conjunctions:58, “Riveted: The Obsession Issue” at the humanely air-conditioned McNally Jackson. Poet Martine Bellen (Ghosts!) — one of four readers alongside Christopher Sorrentino (Sound on Sound), Edie Meidav (Lola, California) and Peter Gizzi (Threshold Songs) — assured us it was “great to be reading on the hottest day of the year.”

Longtime Conjunctions editor Bradford Morrow (The Uninnocent) began the evening with what could only be described as grace. Speaking of what a privilege it’s been to meet young, promising writers, he predicted that Benjamin Hale (The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore) would change the literary landscape. According to Morrow, Hale is also “a bit of a G.”

1. Christopher Sorrentino’s protagonist is condemned to “a life of reading alone in a badly furnished room.” Let’s not make the same mistake. 2. Martine Bellen expresses her love for the cover of Conjunctions, Lowtide, from the “Sentinels” series of the Architect’s Brother collection by Robert and Shana Parke-Harrison.

Benjamin Hale, who emceed the event, thanked the audience for “coming to celebrate this scintillating new fragrance, Obsession,” alluding to the 1990s heroin-chic Calvin Klein perfume ads featuring a mainly naked Kate Moss. Whether for an ad campaign or a literary magazine, Hale reminded us that, “sound mental health rarely drives arresting art.”

Though madness was imperceptible in the McNally ‘underground’ reading area, love was tangible; if Elton John had crooned Can You Feel the Love Tonight, the answer undoubtedly would have been yes. For instance, Christopher Sorrentino said, “I love it when Conjunctions takes my work because they don’t fuck with it.” In Sorrentino’s un-fucked-with story, a writer feels cursed when he realizes he’s working in the same studio as a recently “self-murdered” author. Though the writer considers following the same trajectory “he didn’t quite know what he would accomplish through suicide.” Good point.

1. Peter Gizzi shows us how Conjunctions brings fiction and poetry together into one happy family, possibly in the suburbs. 2. Jim and J Carpenter, a father/daughter text and textile duo who exhibited their work at Invisible Dog in Cobble Hill earlier this month. Jim once made an online poetry-generator called Erika.

Next up was Martine Bellen, who told us, “I’m all cats tonight,” as shown by the appearance of at least one cat in each of her poems. She called out to Jerome Sala, whose blog Espresso Bongo features Bellen’s poem “Cat,” which Bellen read: “Everyone knows the cat’s name/Is not its name. It is my name for the cat.” By the end of the poem, Bellen imagines the cat’s eventual departure: “On that day, / I might say, ‘The cat has moved full-time into the wild.’ / Or I might say, ‘Miau-miau has run away.’” Going forward, I will now refer to all cats as Miau-miau.

Edie Meidav, who has lived in most countries, recently sat on a panel with Benjamin Hale for the classic Hungarian dystopian novel Voyage to Kazohinia, originally written in Esperanto (and Hungarian). Meidav spread the love when she said, “the literary intelligence in this room is palpable.” Here’s a lady who knows how to make friends. While Bellen made mention of cats, Meidav told us she was more focused on dogs — in Cuba, a country where “it’s easy to fall in love, but it’s equally easy to fall out of love” (for dogs and humans alike, I presume).

1. Benjamin Hale and Bradford Morrow (and a nice lady) discuss whether they should head to a Spanish restaurant in the shape of a rectangle. 2. Joseph and Ngoc, poets who most likely have last names, came to see Peter Gizzi.

Peter Gizzi, who apologized in advance for reading an eight-minute long poem, expressed his love for Conjunctions: “Poetry and fiction always appear together and that’s the conjunction. I’m not just in the poetry ghetto, which I love.” In his poem, “Apocrypha,” Gizzi introduced us to the word “friendo,” which sounds like a friendly way of saying friend. That’s not the only term Gizzi’s created — Hale said that when he asked Gizzi why poets often read in the same cadence, Gizzi said, “Oh, that’s the Iowa lilt.” They were in Iowa at the time.

Spreading even more love (but not madness), Hale’s final remarks referenced a beloved 1980s cartoon: “If we formed Voltron [the super robot defender of the universe], Bradford Morrow would be the head.” Enter the Star Wars-esque horns.

Released in May, Conjunctions Issue 58 can be yours to have and to hold. Which is a good thing, because it should be.

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore

by Benjamin Hale

Sound on Sound

by Christopher Sorrentino

Lola, California

by Edie Meidav

Threshold Songs (Wesleyan Poetry)

by Peter Gizzi


by Martine Bellen

— Erika Anderson moved to Brooklyn from Geneva, Switzerland. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, contributes to Hunger Mountain and tweets for the Franklin Park Reading Series.

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