art & artifice
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a review of Erato by Catheynne M. Valente, author of Music of a Proto-Suicide and The Labyrinth for Les Singes Furieux Reviews, August 2003.

Reading Anaiis for the first time is rather like the scene in The Graduate when Mrs. Robinson strips her clothes off and stands naked as Eve in front of the camera. We cut back and forth between her body and Dustin Hoffman's horrified and flustered expression while she leans against the wall, totally calm.

And the body isn't perfect, it's heavy-hipped, small-breasted and a little lumpy, as though it's been used way too many times. It's a 70s porn star after she's resorted to flipping pancakes down at the local IHOP. But it is beautiful. And just the shock of seeing that woman expose herself to you is entirely exciting and delicious because its so wrong. You just can't stop looking.

Now, everyone and their retarded cousin reads Erato. With a name like that you draw a crowd, just like Smuckers. As monkeys go, Anaiis definitely falls into the silverback gorilla category: she's been around forever and there is a 50/50 chance of her either having her way with you or ripping your arms off. It was, admittedly, chicken of Les Singes to chose for a first review such a universally recognized good egg. But it always bears remembering the cardinal law of Le Singe Blanc: even the Jungle King is still a monkey.

Up until recently, Anaiis had fallen into a bit of a rut. She fell back on a style that served her--the obscure dialogue, the sexual dominance play, well, mostly those Hemingway-meets-Louise Brooks dialogues. I say Hemingway because he, too, writes dialogues with no outside reference, whose only reality is the play of characters. And that's a lot like watching someone else masturbate: you are startled, not really knowing what's going on, somewhat interested in the grotesquery of the rhythm, but the perpetrator doesn't give a Christmas fig whether you like it or not.

Which is not to say that she writes in Hemingway's sparse style, far from it. Her prose is lush, decadent, lascivious, wet, and dark. At its best, it digs deep and reaches high. Her admiration for Anais Nin most certainly shows.

Anaiis has lately much improved from what I perceived as a period of laziness in her diary--resting on one's laurels--though, in her case, the laurels are made of merry-colored condoms and origamied pages from Tolstoy. She still has those maddening dialogues, but another, harder creature is beginning to emerge, and this one has teeth. I would say it was just like Christina Aguilera's video Fighter, but I am afraid you might not get the gooey, dripping sarcasm of me invoking such a vile howler monkey as Ms. Aguilera, who on her best day has the sex appeal of a dishtowel. No doubt when Anaiis finishes transcribing her Russian diaries from teenage years past, we will continue to see this metamorphosis.

And about those teenage diaries, two things bear pointing out. 1.) Anaiis at seventeen is to the seventeen year olds on this site as Medea is to Raggety Ann. And you can put that one on your SATs, girls. 2.) While well-written, it is obvious Anaiis had not hit on her style, as they are overly prose-y and the language is cluttered--and those bloody dialogues are also there in spades. Everything is primarily of interest only because of where they were written.

I want my grown-up Anaiis back with bells on. Literally. I want her doing her best glam-rock act with green mascara and nipple-glitter.

So she drips sex like a broken faucet in the Bronx. So she has an ego the size of the Incredible Hulk on a bad day. Truth be told, Anaiis fills for all of us the same need Madonna does: we like to have a beautiful whore tell us what's what. Preferably with a leather heel on our jugular. And that's the persona Anaiis chooses most often. She does it well, and with aplomb. But much like the famous flesh of Anne Bancroft, we get her in quick jump-cuts, never and extended close-up or tracking shot. This is the biggest, perhaps the only weakness of this diary, which, along with few others, entirely justifies the existence of Diaryland. We learn very little about her, and a lot about her favorite mask.

But, oh, children, what a mask it is.

a letter from Howling Wolf author of Art & Silence and Religion in the Making

I have been reading your work intermittently, when I have a free moment, your work deserves an unbroken period of concentration. Let me just mention some pieces that I really enjoyed, admired, and then say some things of a critical nature.

I really liked "Frames". It was a perfect little jewel. Every paragraph was beautifully crafted, thought-out, calculated, but not too calculated. "I am freezing that frame," each sentence carefully thought.

I thought "In Water" was wonderful, very Scorpine, if one can put it that way, "In the water we are relieved of identity"; your style moves in a very fluid way that captures the feeling of floating, being in water. When you say "I felt my weightlessness; I was no longer myself", I thought: when I feel weightless, I am most like myself. Our thoughts converge when you talk about being a part of something greater. The last line in particular is very powerful: "And I am relieved of the burden of gender."

I greatly enjoyed "My name is June". It reminds me a little of Henry Miller's writings about his wife June, and maybe Anais Nin's portrait also. But your own picture of the command June gives to him and how easily he switches into a dominant animal is very tight and well-done, the sentences very short, paragraphs rushing by, fleeting.

I am in the middle of "The Mantis Queen" which very vividly creates the context for a "slow-the-fuck-down drug", it is very vibrant, the true picture of addiction, very powerful, raw.

In the first pieces, there was little narrative, no context, I was disoriented. Your writing is an abstract painting. Without context or narrative at all, I think the reader is forced to wonder about the author, and I do not know that you want the reader to have you lingering like a ghost because then, the reader cannot dream or feel the piece fully.

In later sketches and tales, the "I" is more disguised, though more concrete, although it still hides you, shrouds you. I think this mask is what the reader needs to find himself in the scene. To be able to see the story apart from the writer.

What you are challenged to do is to write an essay and a story in one genre. I think yours are edgy, worth-while experiements in prose. The danger is that the essay is necessarily abstract and the story necessarily concrete, but you, with admirable perversity, have managed to combine them.

The diary is perfect for you, narrative, after all, is just a disguise for a reality without clear trails. In closing, I must say I think of you when I am reading you and I think of you when I am not reading you.

a short reply by Poul A. Costinsky, genius and artist
Your diaries are the diaries of intellectual and sensual adventures, the best kind in my book.

a letter from Judas, astrologer and writer
There's something about the receptive shape of her mouth. When I think of it, I feel a simmering lash of her tongue against mine flicker through the receptors of my consciousness. What is it about her? Even indulgent demons are known to pause in her wake, soothed by an avid interest.

She's the tingle of sweet liquor on the palette. She's that fluttering sensation of butterflies dancing in the pit of the stomach, struggling for air. She's the moist, puckered opening of an orifice, suspended over a length of sensitive flesh. She's the salty aftertaste after kissing the face of a weeping lover.

Some forlorn narrative sweeps out from under her pendulum, and for a moment, I wish to be embraced by her rushing waters, her cumulative torrent of knowledge. A titan of sensuality, she reaches to reinvent the nuances of intercourse. From a reference of pleasure and agony, she can redefine the cosmos as according to her erotic index.

A vague notion stirs in my nocturnal unrest: My God, I want to reproduce her and place her everywhere, in strategic locations all throughout my gallery. I want to exchange my tidings of madness for her own. We should be part of the same savage spectacle! We should ridicule existence together with undefiled beauty and wisdom.

For the queen of masks,
I admire you in bewildering sureness.

a tribute in passing by R. S. Price, graphic artist, writer, and creator of

... I want the perfect words, the perfect smile, the beautiful walk, the glossy hair falling in cascades across a slimlined shoulder. Beautiful breasts that peak with glee from angelic-curved silk and steel. Sparkly eyes, glowy features, moist lips, flat tummy and rounded hips, long legs to walk miles with, haute couture melted on me.

I want a mind made of sharp, absorbent wax, brimming over with thoughts, ideas, and mathmatics. Hands that paint memories. Black boots to press the earth under me. The kind of cool efficiency and poise and assuredness that gives me many roads from which to choose.

a tribute by Laura Roberts, journalist and art critic.

I am not like you, although occasionally I wish I were. You are grace, beauty, power, wisdom, and the bitter laughter of the cynic. Where I stumble, you stride purposefully. You always steal the spotlight with your hips, you lips, your body like liquid sex wrapped in soft fabrics that compliment your eyes and show off your greatest assets. Around you, I feel subdued, repressed, miniscule. You burn like the sun, and even the halogens cannot compete.

from the lyrics of the quietest man alive.

She described herself as a still life but there was nothing vague about her. She moved with purpose and abandon, she moved with a certain power as we lingered in the distance, perspective shifted to allow a better view of her in profile silouetted in the shower.

Waste no time on what you long for, dread not that which you can't save, save those who are in danger and refuse those who will not wait. Take what you know is your own, leave them the scraps of what you've had. Kiss those closest to you as if they never left.

Signal me with one small finger, wave me on when you're not so proud, when you've learned that the holes in your empire are made of silver clouds. Let your hands guide you in darkness, let your mouth find what it craves. In the hour of our ascension, we shall have more than what we gave.

Wear your poetry like two black boots and smile with flashing teeth; carve your name into his eyelids when you find him fast asleep. Sow the earth with what you've built in a tribute to his worth, curse those who came before him and destroyed that which you had birthed.

Catch me in the right light, paint me against the grain, and corner me when I'm ashamed to admit from where it is I came. Call to me across Madrid and drag me slow through Paris (in the darkest parts of Peru, you tried to teach me of your madness and I held strong against the wind and anchored myself with doubt and you leaned across the table so that you could blow the candles out).

We were tied onto each other, we were both thrown overboard and in the company of waters deep, you realized I was born under a sign depicting faith and charity and treason. And to those who watched us pass, they said, 'there is a wire attached between them.' I took the path of least resistance, you hitched up your skirt and strode across the universe, to find what makes you hurt.

And when you came upon him, you stole his crown and jewels and slipped them in your pocket and played them all for fools. And each who watched you stride on by, full of poise and calm design was struck deaf and dumb and blind and some were ruined for some time.

from the memoirs of M. J. Flood, mathematician.

There are feet on your ceiling. You are compulsively neat and supermessy. I am compulsive about washing my hands. You steal the comforter and grind your teeth. I used to talk in my sleep and sometimes I steal the bed.

We both shower quickly, except when I am getting myself off. You use two towels, I use one - from back when I never had two, just one. I can't remember why. I prefer two, though, but am always too lazy.

If you get burned, you will pretend instantly not to care and then get your sweet goddamn revenge. I pretend I don't care and then secretly obsess, but never do anything about it.

We have both quit smoking at least four times each in the last six months. I am with my boyfriend because I don't know what else to do with myself. You are with nobody because you won't let anyone figure out what to do with you.

We both hate to be understood and get angry when we're not. You have no wristbone, your thumb bends backwards, you have gold lost in your earlobes and moons carved on your back like missing wings.

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