Hello My Delicate
Edited by Matthew Stadler
(www.clearcutpress.com) $6

Hello My Delicate, which appeared in the spring issue of ARCADE (a Northwest architecture and design journal) and is currently available at www.clearcutpress.com, reads like a catalog of lyrical-critical strolls, set in and around the urban areas of Seattle and Vancouver, BC. The collection was guest-edited by Matthew Stadler, who in his introduction writes: "Here we find buildings that never were, unreliable memories, impossible hopes, exaggerated fears, false promises--real things." The physically real (landscape, terrain) is viewed as inseparable from and constituted by a field of projections and desires, simultaneously personal and political.

Jason Lutes' contribution, the narrative cartoon "This Other City," is set in a sort of negative image of Seattle, composed of projects (a waterfront tikitown, an elevated train on Third Avenue, a Victorian mansion in Woodland Park) planned for the city but never built. The effect isn't so much one of involution as a dreamlike thinning of boundaries--probing our city's unconscious production of utopias and their subsequent confinement to nostalgia.

In "Fourth Walk" the Office for Soft Architecture actively disassembles such partitions with wild language: "[Vancouver] was our city. We recognized the frayed connective cables sketched by words like 'went' and 'pass,' the sacral nostalgias fueling violence and the desiring apparatus of love. Utopia was what punctuated the hum of disparities. Utopia: a searing, futuristic retinal trope that oddly offered an intelligibility to the present."

Stacey Levine and Rich Jensen's "Seattle: Toothpicks and Marshmallows" employs devices of recurrence to portray a decentered, dispersed Seattle, alternating poetry with bits of theory, biography, and history. The whimsy of some of these perspectives--written from the viewpoint of seagulls, crows, or cats--often ends in disquiet: "From my vantage point, it's easy to see that the structures holding us in place are so very heavy. We struggle to keep abreast of the arenas of commerce, technology, markets. Suppose we no longer call this competition, but something uglier?" As elsewhere, questions of economy and technology are never far distant, lingering beneath the surface like invisible builders and corrosives.

During a recent interview, I talked with Stadler about Hello My Delicate and about a new (and more ambitious) project, Clear Cut Press, which will publish writing in a related vein. "There's an important interest in literally the physical land," Stadler said on the phone, "not because of an interest in nature per se, but because it's a physical reality we share." Based in Astoria, Clear Cut is published by Rich Jensen (former director of Sup Pop and co-founder of Up Records) and edited by Stadler. Its roster of authors includes several of those appearing in the spring ARCADE, as well as a variety of others (Diana George, Charles Mudede, Emily White, Frances McCue, among others) familiar to Seattle readers but perhaps underexposed elsewhere.

Part of what's appealing about the press is its distribution model, drawn from Jensen's experience with independent music labels as well as from literary sources. Titles will be offered first by subscription, beginning with an anthology this January. Of their collaboration, Stadler said, "In 1996 or 1997 I offered a class at Hugo [House] called Writing the City, and Rich took it, and we began talking about poetic practice and also about economics and what economies might suit writers. These conversations seemed to suggest a model for how to create an economy around writing that might suit writers--particularly an economy as perverse, slow, and loyal as readers are."

In other words, Clear Cut as a whole might be seen as undertaking a sort of lyrical research. Far from idle reverie or quietist retreat, the terms of the undertaking seem to possess a strange persistence, insisting on utopia as practice and substrate of reality. Shortly after I hung up, Stadler called me back with an afterthought. Earlier I'd tried to suggest that Clear Cut might be a step toward cultural autonomy (admittedly a shabby word for what I'd wanted) for our region. "We're not interested in fighting battles," he said. "We're like a blackberry. Is a blackberry autonomous? Blackberries grow from clear-cuts--they don't struggle so much as just thrive."

Clear Cut Press Presents Bruce Benderson on Wed, at Secluded Alley Works, Nov 27. 113 12th Ave, 839-0880, 8:30 pm, $5.

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