Porttraits of Ruin (2012)

PoR - cover [front] 2012.09.24

Portraits of Ruin
edited byJoshi  S.T. Joshi
Cover Art by J. Karl Bogartte
Introduction Matt Cardin
Hippocampus Press, 2012

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Table of Contents:

No Healing Prayers
Lena … cries
So Into You
(a piece) about angels left out in the rain
Time … and Forver
[with Tara VanFlower]
Before and After Science
A Hand at the Door
Le Festin de l’araignee
Herding Fire, A Murder Mystery

The Russ Meyer Triptych
The Director’s Cut
Skin Flick sans Money Shot
When There’s a Riot Goin’ On

But Not for Me
[with Laurene Amiotte]
kristamas as an exhibition
Small Ocean after Solar
Lonely … and a long way from home
Listen to a Country Song
Memories Can Wait
6 … 6—
… LIES …… Thunder …… ashes
Rune Grammofon poem U.N/umbered
Marks and Scars and Flags
Mrs. Spriggs’ Easter Attire
[with Tara VanFlower]
Each Night begins a New Journey That Leads Only to an End with No Between
BACK to—
Catch Tomorrow
When a Sigh Visits Skin
By the Light … of
Her Lips Were Wet with Venom
Now (a parade)
After Plath’s “Goatsucker”
Tark Left Santiago
How I survived the Cowboy Movie [or When the Baroon Opened His Eye]
In Her Forest Garden Dreaming
Icarus Above
My Mirage
And this is where I go down into the darkness

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“(This is a crude copy of the review that I posted on my blog. I rarely write reviews, and never if asked to. And I hate false praise.)

For anyone wishing to self-gratify with a book that will make you want, finally, to efficiently slit your wrists, sheathe your blade if you think that PORTRAITS OF RUIN will be your (last) boon companion. It’ll on the other hand, jilt you faster than you can say “Fie” or alternatively, as a passage in one of the stories does:

“Marquis de Sade: [His new wife, Penny Porsche-de Sade, who’s flashing his new book, On the Paradisal Heights of The Orgasm Circus: Existentialism Is for Uptight Victorians and Dummies to cameramen, on his arm. Waves.] Hi!Hello. [Beaming.] Hi. [Throwing kisses to the fans in the bleachers.] Bonjour! Love every one of you!”

The introduction by Matt Cardin is of rare quality.

Don’t judge a book by its cover
This rather typically Horror-screaming cover covers many sins: damn fun, romantic lust, delirious joy; intense observation, oddly enough, of others (“Gull-voice oboe cries”, “Gill standing [wearing a black wig / under the wig her real hair is wet–the wig sticks unevenly–some of it is flat and sticks out like crow feathers”, “At this distance it could be an angel or the eyes of a pumpkin.” “the accomplishments of a dead animal”, “A shadow walks the street like a bass player with somewhere to go.”); playfulness; heart-rending beauty as indissectible as a rainbow; magic; music in timbres unique to this writer, as if he’d mixed his own alloy and poured it, red-hot, to cast his own bell.

There are many styles here, too. Sure, there’s the whole panoply of human pain and paingivers, but that’s only part of the whole.

Pulver is famous for his unique let-it-all-flow-out style, but there are many here. Also, the easy flow is, I suspect, as easy as an iceskater’s smoothness.

“the fluent scent of disordered

In this book the spaces matter. Fonts matter. So does all the punctuation. So does every word, no matter how shed like skin cells from aetheria and swept up it might seem. It’s clear that Pulver is not only a perfectionist, but an agonist (isn’t it an undramatised tragedy that this word, a noun even, isn’t represented in dictionaries by meaning #3: ‘one who agonises’– the snobs). (But as I was leading up to: five stars for the production team at Hippocampus Press, for this is a most excellently set book, with a variety of treatments, each executed with much care.)

The skill of writing is consummate and invisible, never dazzling us with lectures on technique. Nor is there any of that painfully padded & crafted abuse of words and our patience that is so common with MFA-waving ‘experimental’ authors. (I highly recommend Matt Cardin’s unusually useful and most interesting introduction. It talks of many things, including trying experimentalism; and would be an excellent essay for anyone who must read anything about what is written.)

Above all, this collection reminds me of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”; and if I had covered it, I would have woken Bakst, who would, I know, have done it for a copy he could take back with him; for Portraits of Ruin tells innumerable stories, not vaguely in the least–with no bulls***, but richly and not specifically (and he doesn’t leave those hated ‘ly words’ and adjectives’ to die from no exposure).

Furthermore, the celebrated Pulver flow cannot disguise his genuine romanticism, not one wedded to doom but surprisingly mushy. This collection could easily be sold with a chocolate box cover, and satisfy consumers. Oddly, this little secret is something no one ever mentions.

“She removes her flower-print cotton dress–one land of tinted-weather melted to a hungry landscape of astronomy (every star for me to see). Offers this vampire ingot-nipples, oh the torchlight-joy contact. I FEEL TOTAL. Offers me that magnificent heart–Burn-burn-burn–Burn-burn! My own Alice, crackling, laughing, Drink me. Drink me. Come that I might annotate you with kisses and commas and prickled clouds. Come with your need. My cupcakes breasts will paint you with strawberry whispers.
I have told you this to pay him back for another unsocial characteristic of his. Many times in the past months in which I have had the privilege of fluffing his moustache with correspondence, I have quoted back a sentence or phrase that he’s minted, because I’ve liked it so. He never remembers a one. I truly think he doesn’t even wear his books in his coat.”

The only other criticism I can think of is one about humility. Pulver has too much of it. Stop hoarding it, man. The rest of the world needs more.”

Anna Tambour, author of Crandoline


 * * *

“Joe Pulver is a one-off. His novel, ‘The Orphan Palace’, which I reviewed a while back, was my personal choice for best novel of 2011, even if it didn’t actually sweep the board for awards. Not enough people read the book, or it surely would have.

This is his third collection of stories. They’re not your usual fare for a horror collection. Pulver’s poetic prose is frankly awe-inspiring. His plots are vague, to say the least. The underlying power of cosmic horror, as written by Lovecraft and his peers, was always the sense of otherness, of man being an insignificant speck in the vastness of creation. Pulver gets this on an instinctive level and somehow transfers it to the reader by osmosis as they read the words. That’s not to say that the stories in this book are necessarily cosmic horror, or particularly Lovecraftian. His protagonists seem to exist in a universe over which they have little control, or understanding, which is what inspires me to draw that comparison. It’s not fiction as we know it, but somehow it’s never difficult to read. It flows organically in a way that gets under the reader’s skin.

I started this review, in my normal manner for a book of short stories, by making notes on each story as I read them. It wasn’t long before I came to realise that this method simply wasn’t going to work in this case. For one thing, there are a lot of stories in this extraordinary book, so there’s no way I could mention them all. In more than a few cases, to try to describe the story would be to pretty much retell it, and that would serve no one.

One could describe Joe Pulver’s work as challenging. Those who share some of Pulver’s tastes will have an easier time working out what is going on in some of the tales in this book. He is a major fan of the ‘King in Yellow’ stories of Robert W. Chambers, and this, along with the films of David Lynch, informs his work to a great degree. I had to read a few of the stories more than once before I got a handle on them. His protagonists tend to range from damaged to completely insane, and Pulver gets into their heads brilliantly. No-one has ever written train of thought from the perspective of madness better than Pulver. He often writes in a sort of prose beat-poetry style, which is just coherent enough for the reader to follow; the result is very powerful. The way his writing absolutely does follow a sort of logic, just not a familiar logic, is very clever. I don’t know of many writers who could pull it off. Hell, I’ve read more than one writer who has tried and fallen headlong into the murky ditch of pretentiousness.

Having used the words “train of thought” to describe the way Pulver writes, I have to qualify my statement. Every word, every space, every punctuation mark in his work is of equal importance. There’s nothing “off the top of his head” about this stuff. It’s painstakingly crafted.

I sincerely hope I haven’t put too many readers off the book, here. Yes, it can be challenging, but it is oh so very worth it. Don’t be frightened to give it a go. Sit back, relax, don’t think too hard and just let the words seep into your consciousness.

Joseph Pulver is a unique voice in modern fiction. Help me spread the word.”

David L. Brzeski
* * *

“All writers are influenced and inspired by other writers, and we all know writers who echo those influences, running the gamut from subtly to obviously, but I don’t think I’ve ever read an author who is capable of blending/bending his influences quite like Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. As impacting as a violent train wreck, the resultant explosion of mellifluous ethereality onto the page is something so totally different that it’s almost a completely new art form. Sure, you’ve got your Lovecraft, Robert W. Chambers, Ramsey Campbell, William Burroughs, Richard Brautigan, Raymond Chandler–even T. S. Eliot–but jam them all together into Pulver’s psychotic centrifuge, and the resulting velvet-swathed, running-the-guts spatter pattern ends up as a collection like Portraits of Ruin (Hippocampus Press). I have already expounded at length on Pulver’s most recent works, SIN & ashes and The Orphan Palace, so I was certainly primed and ready for another dose of his mind-bending/expanding work.

There are a handful of reprints in this volume, mostly from 2010 and 2011, culled from small press and magazine releases, but the majority of material here is new. Cover art and design by J. Karl Bogartte and Barbara Briggs Silbert (respectively) are dark, imaginative and evocative. The introduction by Matt Cardin is an excellent prelude to the stories (Cardin tells us how to read and get the most from Pulver’s unique style; it took my third reading of SIN & ashes to finally figure it out on my own). The early proof I read was well-laid out and easy on the eyes. Hippocampus Press is a stickler for detail and seldom missteps in presentation or content. There are nearly forty juicy morsels here to drool over, at 376 pages.

The collection kicks off with a chillingly muted bang with the story “No Healing Prayers,” first published in Dead But Dreaming 2 (Miskatonic River Press, 2011). This story is compact but deadly, chock full of antediluvian Lovecraftesque references to things like the Piper Man, the Black Goat, the Thing That Sails on Tears, wolfspell; and cleverly interspersed with modernisms: the Mossberg 590 Persuader, front porches, the big wars and coffee. “Lena…cries” is a lyrically beautiful, relentlessly bleak paean to pain of the emotional variety, relationships–and dying–in a number of all-too-familiar permutations. In this dissonant masterpiece, evidently inspired by the ambient/experimental work of cellist/instrumentalist Lena Griffin, Pulver effortlessly (or so it would appear) shifts from a Stygian fantasy landscape to a dimly lit, but grimly detailed modern reality. From there, the reader is treated to a diverse trove of devastating, personal vignettes. Some worked better than others for me, but none could be considered less than ‘very good’, and others were totally astonishing. I particularly enjoyed “My Mirage” because of the unexpected side trip into screenplay formatting toward the end. The collection closes with “And this is where I go down into the darkness,” one of the longer included works, fittingly dedicated to beelzeBOB and the estimable Thomas Ligotti. It is a gorgeous laudation of writers and writing and inspiration and influences and muses and…
and an apt conclusion to this highly imaginative mix.

Here’s the thing: As I’ve stated in previous reviews, Pulver’s work will not be everyone’s cup of hemlock; it consistently defies/violates structure and most traditional trappings of the short narrative. And that’s fine; nothing should appeal to everyone. In Cardin’s introduction, Pulver is quoted as saying: “I never know what to make of my stuff.” If that’s true, it may be the scariest thing I’ve ever read, since each word, every slice of darkly cadenced phrasing seems perfectly placed after being lovingly stressed over, ending in a saturnine elegance. Nothing seems oblique; nothing left to chance. That’s why Pulver’s stories work for me; in the hands of a lesser, inexperienced talent, this style might seem forced, too self-aware. However, if you choose to enter these literary gates with an open mind, checking your preconceptions at the door while allowing the words to envelop you (and vice versa), you will understand what Pulver fans already know: it’s an exhilarating, deeply personal experience that will grab you by the throat (brain, body and soul) and won’t easily let go. For this jaded reviewer, reading Pulver is like discovering Poe, Lovecraft, Kenneth Patchen, Bob Dylan–even Hieronymus Bosch–for the very first time.
He’s that good.”

Walt Hicks

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