EDMOND CALDWELL

SAY IT WITH STONES                         ISBN 9780615577951

Say It With Stones/Interbirth Books are a small, Dallas-based press publishing mainly poetry; Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant is their first venture into the novel. They are to be commended on their enterprise and audacity no less than Caldwell himself. This is a witty addition to the ranks of the Postmodernist anti-novel.

But “anti-novel” is an over-used and imprecise term. Let’s use the term “novel-in-negative” – less snap but more precision.

Human Wishes proceeds by systematically breaking the rules, confounding the expectations of the novel – plot, character, background setting – so that what we are left with is a novel in reverse.

    The rationale for this is given within the text: “If you were to write a truly ‘realistic’ novel it would have to include these histories of lives in labor and labor in lives, each novel would have to be an endless roman fleuve of these loops and strata, each novel a failure because it could not possibly encompass it all, each novel necessarily a fragment and a failure…” (p. 129). And to create “rounded” characters depends entirely on such infinitely regressing loops of back-story; on the appearance of psychological depth and temporal depth together causing the effect of realism, because “people just don’t go around doing shit for no reason that’s not realistic, but if they don’t do anything at all it won’t be dramatic, if for example they just wander round in circles trapped inside various non-places such as airport baggage-claim terminals and highway rest stops it wouldn’t be dramatic, you’ve got to be realistic yet dramatic….” (p. 159).

    So here, in place of plot we have structure, and as reinforcement of the structure, a series of (very funny) running gags. The book is in three parts, each of three chapters. They all function discretely, and are all set in just those “non-places”, “In-Between Places” Caldwell warns against: airport terminal, Parisian hotel complex for “bumped” passengers, the tourist sites of St. Petersburg, rest-stop, shopping mall, art gallery…

    This last also functions as a brilliant mise en abyme – the gallery is showing an exhibition of Joseph Cornell boxes, those still-lifescapes conjuring a universe in a peep-box. The chapters of Human Wishes work the same way, with a cumulative effect.

    It also introduces one of the funniest running gags, featuring a constantly metamorphosing James Wood, the literary critic who is, to my amusement, taken very seriously in America (as he is not in Britain). In fact, the principle of Kafkaesque metamorphosis is at the heart of the book, as themes and settings darken.

    For instance, the sixth chapter, Time And Motion, is set in a shopping mall bookshop, a B. Dalton bookshop in fact, an extended meditation on Taylorism, the “scientific” basis of industrial (and literary?) production, written in the style of Thomas Bernhard, and every bit as funny and acidulous. It plays with the  possibility of Taylor’s book The Principles of Scientific Management turning out to be a parody, an anti-novel in the form of a spoof scientific study. But in passing, it relates Taylorism  to the efficiency of the Nazi Holocaust. This is not gratuitous. It links subliminally with a later chapter, a backstory of sorts, although not the realist type Caldwell has dismissed, set in Lydda during the Israeli “cleansing” of 1948.

    This in turn, by means of a searing image of a mutely screaming shell-shocked woman, morphs into an elaborate playscript involving Dr. Johnson, his cat, the ubiquitous James Wood, and an early, lost play by Samuel Beckett – Human Wishes. Thus is explained the first part of the title.

    The second, Enemy Combatant, is prepared by another running gag – the (anti-)hero’s “facial dismorphia”, his obsessive worry over his appearance. Although of Portuguese-American descent, he is convinced he looks Semitic, either Jewish or, more worryingly, Arabic, equally convinced he will end up being arrested as not just a literary terrorist, intent on “blowing up the novel from within”, but a real, honest-to-goodness, Al Qaeda-type terrorist, an enemy combatant.

    This “facial dismorphia” is, then, more than a trope for fluidity of character in place of Realism’s “rounded” character. It is the last and crucial metamorphosis of the book. The final chapter, Enemy Combatant, starts fittingly with a parodic reference to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. And as Kafka’s parables turned to chilling literalism under the Nazis – a whole people turned overnight into “vermin” – so the antihero’s dismorphic worries become real, or apparently so, when he is indeed arrested and interrogated as possible enemy combatant, during which the past scenes of his life/the book return and coalesce into Kafkaesque nightmare; a haunting tour de force to close the book.

    It is not, though, despite that nightmare ending, a sombre book; on the contrary, it is bracingly literay in its references, and above all very funny in its wit and linguistic invention. No synopsis could adequately describe it, and this review doesn’t attempt to do so. It attempts only to encourage you to read it, slowly, enjoy the ride, and congratulate yourselves on being among the first to recognize the authority of a writer we will all be hearing much more about in the future.

David Rose is a British writer whose short stories have also appeared in Canada – in Front&Centre (Ottawa) and The Loose Canon (Montreal) – and the U.S.A. in the online Bicycle Review. His first novel, Vault, was published last year by the British press, Salt.

Poetry Uncategorized


She kneels in deck shoes and nothing else

unless you count tattoos.

The acolytes from off-camera appear.

Surround her, as she sets to work

maintaining all six erect.

She deepthroats one after the other,

after the other, after again the one,

after another other, and so on,

in accelerating succession.

Till the choir takes the wheel,

soloing together –

backflipped beetle,

six legs pumping,

while she fingers herself till the boys climax,

and goo clots with a horror of ecstasy

her skull.

                 The lingams withdraw, spent,

while she gallops nowhere in a hell

of a hurry, yet on the knees,

riding barelip her fingertip steed,

blind with stud pollen, licking dollops,

camera dollying in to worship

each grinning, bitter gulp.

Willie Smith


A Review of My Book

1                My Book is a complex book.

1.1               The book is a structure made up of words, not of things.

1.11             The structure is composed of words that have entered the ear and been presented as sentences on the page in ink for the eye.

1.12             The structure was created by the architect, the author is the architect, I am the architect, within the book there is an architect, the words of the architect are the foundation and skeleton of the book, which is the structure.

1.13           There is a place for complex books and that place is between your hands and below or above your open eyes.

1.2       My Book should be read aloud.

1.21           I am told I have an ear for dialogue. I have two ears.

2                Twenty four hours make up a day. In that day many words pass from lips to ears. In the space between the ears, behind the eyes, words flow and collide.  The eyes can only see the words inked on the white page. The ears cannot read. The ears listen. The eyes cannot listen. 

2.01     My Book is better than this review.

2.011            Ludwig Wittgenstein loved Westerns.

3             Ferdinand de Saussure only wrote on blackboards with white chalk. Those hundreds and hundreds of blackboards are housed at École pratique des hautes études. They are hermetically sealed. But still the chalk flakes keep falling off.

3.01 2.011 & 3 are for the Literary Critic.

H.P. Wodehouse



Seven Endings

  1. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect but luckily for him it was just the pillow upon his belly and the blanket wrapped around his sleepy head.
  2. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure so I’ll go back to sleep. 
  3. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul I am sorry but you are shockingly way too young for me.  
  4. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed there was much spillage and he slipped and broke his neck.
  5. It was a pleasure to burn. The fire got too hot so we went inside and continued the party.
  6. Call me Ishmael. ‘Ishmael.’
  7. Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Something Hemingway never achieved.

Mark Barkan


(An Advertisement)

I have a big penis. I had to get that out of the way first. I have a twenty-seven-inch penis. A past girlfriend called it ‘The Onion.’ I was very proud of the name. Many years later I found out she called it ‘The Onion’ because of the smell. I always thought she named it ‘The Onion’ because it brought a tear to her eye.  My teeth have all fallen out. This is the second incongruity that attracts notice. I refuse to wear dentures. I could choke on the dentures. I have a wide mouth. I am able to swallow two fists. A girlfriend found it very funny. For her I would swallow a tennis ball.  The tennis ball would get caught in my throat and she laugh. She said I should join a circus. I have no need to join a circus I am famous. If I were not famous, I would join a circus. But I am famous. I have a thousand friends. I have never met or talked to any of my thousand friends. All of my friends are famous and brilliant – I love them dearly. My friends follow my every word. I can do something the Mona Lisa cannot, I can turn my neck. I am witty. I have read two thousand books. Each book bigger and longer and denser than the last.  My fingertips are permanently purple. I know musicians, film stars, fab-celebs, cheats, sycophants, hooligans, gangsters, drug dealers, child molesters and murderers. I have six fingers on my left hand. I have one leg longer than the other. My parents were always pulling my leg. My parents eloped. They never went through with the wedding. They telephone my neighbor once a year. I have three nipples, but saying that many people have three nipples. I have two assholes. One of the assholes is a snob. My mouth and tongue are to blame for the loss of my teeth. There is a strange odor that emanates from me. It is fusty, I am told. When it rains nodes appear. I have found worms burrowing into my flesh. I have plucked earwigs from my ears. I have stopped centipedes running up my legs. I have a Siamese twin. He is much taller than me. Sometimes He will carry me. He is a simpleton. I have to do the reading and writing. My vocabulary is huge. I have more than twenty-six thousand words in my arsenal. I can say yes nine different ways. My Siamese twin follows me worse than a shadow.  One night he stole my girlfriend. I found them in bed together. They were smoking. It was the cigarettes pressed against my flesh that told me of their betrayal. I have run marathons. I have fought in two wars. I work in a bank. I am as horny as a dog with two dicks. I have many children. I know Derrida. I am blind like Borges. I wear women’s underwear like Joyce. I chew my food like Kafka. I have written a book. I have a second penis. It is connected to the frontal lobe. For years I was told to get into porn. I tried. The porn star stripped off. She was very beautiful. I was overwhelmed. I fainted. My doctor said the rush of blood to the head almost killed me. He warned me never to get so excited again. I was lucky he said. He asked to see my penis. He called it a diving board. He was once an Olympian. Bronze, I think. He is very proud of his endeavor. I would have won gold knowing me.



Arthur Rimbaud

Did not Arthur Rimbaud ask the question What am I doing here? but you never ask the question standing before the mirror with the hairbrush in your hand impersonating Arthur Rimbaud chanting Jadis, si je me souviens bien… with your hair puffed up and a scowl on your face and a teatowel tied in a bow around your neck and though you see Paul Verlaine old and bald and decrepit you ignore it for nobody wants to be old and bald and decrepit Paul Verlaine when you could be Arthur Rimbaud.

20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891

Larry Caomhánach



Shakespeare achieved a thunderous cough and then shat his pants and died. That’s what happens.  You cough. You shit your pants. You die. Happens to the best of us. I plan on following Heracles & Theseus & Odysseus & Aeneas. Back then you had to pay to go to Hades. You used an obol. An obol is a mundane coin that goes through a metamorphosis. You received the obol on your deathbed. A family member placed the obol on the eyes of the dead. The dead carried the obol into Hades. And to cross the River Styx, which you have to do, you pay the son of Night and of Erebus, Charon, for his service. I am going to Hades and that’s my choice. Heaven is not an option. I’ve been a bad boy. Soon I will be dead and Hades follows death for me. Aristophanes mocked Hades by having frogs down there croaking. Hades is easy to find. We know that the entrance to Hades can be found at Avernus, a crater near Cumae, Italy. Andrea De Jorio drew a map. It is a beautiful map. I possess the map. It is dear to me. The map shows you how to get to Hades, and unintentionally, how to get back from Hades. The Renaissance painter, Karlus Zožičević painted the interior of Hades. It is this Hades I plan on visiting.  Vasari mentions Karlus Zožičević only once, it is a footnote, and it mocks Karlus Zožičević. Vasari, as with Dante, always repaid a slur. Pope Alexander VI commissioned Karlus Zožičević to paint Hades. He wanted a painting to keep him on the straight and narrow in his final years. Zožičević known on the streets of Rome and Milan as Karlus the Sycophant painted Hades for Pope Alexander VI in a matter of days. What he depicted was not some caldron of fire and damnation but a Garden of Earthly Delights with a few rain clouds. Pope Alexander VI was overjoyed. Karlus the Sycophant showed the Pope in all his Priapean majesty. All the females were exaggerated, no two breasts were alike, no pair of nipples the same color, and the brush strokes animated the pubic hair. This greatly pleased the moribund Pope Alexander VI. All men were omitted. Sadly, Hitler’s Luftwaffe destroyed the painting, but we know of its existence because the Knights of Malta would hang the painting on the anniversary of Pope Alexander VI’s death and shit. Heracles & Theseus & Odysseus & Aeneas did not have to experience death to go to Hades. They slit the throats of animals and poured libations to the Gods. That’s how they got entrance to Hades. They paid. Abd more importantly for me they always returned and told their story. Ah, Hades! more Disneyland than Disney.

Larry Caomhánach


A Sale

Things I have collected and now need to sale for a price:

1: A comb used by Marguerite Duras and an empty bottle.

2: The wall James Joyce rested upon while Nora Barnacle pleasured him.

3: The Tantō that Yukio Mishima used during the Seppuku – also, the concrete on which the Seppuku spilled out upon. Stains still showing.

4: The bench at Astapovo train station; the last place Tolstoy took the weight off his feet.  

5: The pot Gogol destroyed Dead Souls in by fire. Inside of the pot visible are the last written words.

6: The concrete slab where Jeanne Hébuterne crashed to her death – teeth are optional.

7: An English oven last used February 11, 1963

8: ………………………… (A secret. Call me at 33773377) ……… (Hint: a lost apostrophe! See 2.).  

9: Gabriele Falloppio’s lambskin (used).

10: A sex toy kept by Michel Foucault that had once been owned by Sigmund Freud that had been used by the Marquis de Sade that had been handmade by the Nuns of Lundin.

first come, first served

Larry Caomhánach