The Return of Ping Pong
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Jonathan Ames’ short fiction story “Book Tour Diary” would have pleased Henry Miller. It reads like a little black book of sexual escapades, but with a strange revelation that drops the reader into messy human terrain at its close: the same loneliness that leads the charismatic protagonist into his adventures is threatening to kill him.
This gem of a tale shares space with four other works of short fiction, four works of nonfiction, more than 50 poems and 30 works of art in the second volume of Ping Pong, the annual art and literary journal of the Henry Miller Library, which returned last year after an 11-year hiatus. Its editors, authors, artists and the local community will celebrate with a multifaceted, afternoon-long launch party at the library this Saturday, Aug. 9.
This year’s publication is bigger than last year’s– an inch wider, with more pages and more color art.
“We wanted to go with this larger format,” Monterey author and Ping Pong managing editor Dan Linehan says, “to show off the artwork, which was mostly landscape format. There are not as much translations as last year. Still, there is a wide range of styles of work.”
No kidding. Washington D.C.’s Brandi Walker contributes an insider account of her work in Sudan to eliminate rape and violence against women “as a weapon of war.” Tom Marshall’s poem “Dangling Meaning” sounds like a song, with unexpected alliteration and repetition, and admirably nimble word craft. In Seana Graham’s short story “The Coper,” the narrator addresses the reader in a talky, deliberate exposition about his job as a live-in assistant, full of amusing details about cooking meals, keeping appointments and minding manners. When the narrative coalesces into a profoundly touching coda that radiates with humanity, it simultaneously reaffirms what art, and this book, can do: Show us ourselves.
The publication, with dimensions more like a soft cover book, mixes and matches its nonfiction, poetry, art and fiction. This thematic layout invites a nonlinear approach: Crack open the journal anywhere and dive right in. Vladimir Kush’s painting of a blue whale suspended over a crater lake, titled “Breech,” may have nothing to do with the two-dozen-words-per-page free verse by Anthony Hawley on the opposite page; it’s left to the reader’s mind to make any connections.
A front-to-back read has its own rewards: The fiction is stylish, the non-fiction unadorned, the poetry sinuous, and the art provides a breather. Which isn’t to say the art doesn’t engage.
Priscilla Geruson’s black-and-white photographs feature an animal– shark, fish or alligator– trapped in the world of humans, in aquarium tanks and parking lots. Bulgaria’s Boril Boshnakov paints pretty women like they’re covers of dark, surreal Hallmark cards. And lowbrow artist Eric Joyner’s robot-and-donut paintings play surreal games in very realistic landscapes.
Henry Miller lured contemporaries and truth seekers to Big Sur through his presence, and he projected Big Sur out into the world through influential books like The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
Ping Pong carries on with that connective mission.
“Beside some of the finest, cutting-edge writing from this continent,” says poetry editor Jim Maughn, “we also feature work from Iran, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Sudan and Bulgaria. It bridges the local literary scene with the international.”
Ping Pong editor (and editor of Hartnell College’s Homestead Review) Maria Garcia Teutsch meets people from all corners who were turned on to last year’s Ping Pong. “I was at a party thrown by [poet] Thomas Lux this past January and Kim Addonizio, who is a poet I greatly respect, said she had read through it and felt we were taking risks no one else was really taking in American journals. I think she is right.”
Teutsch says launch party attendees can expect surprises on the library’s lawn as well. “When Laurie Anderson played, Lou Reed was there; when Peggy Young played last year, Neil was there playing backup and hanging out under the redwoods. The best local writers and artists will be there just to hang out.”
Confirmed attendees who will do readings include Santa Cruz writer Seana Graham; Capitola Book Cafe co-owner Richard Lange; wandering poet Tom Marshall; artist Steve Edington, who will read works from recently departed poet Ric Masten; local conservationist and author of Return of the Condor John Moir; award-winning writer of Children Having Trouble with Meat Christine Hamm; and California College of the Arts graduate writing program teacher Hugh Behn-Steinberg.
As the literary performances unfold throughout the day, excursions into other diversions pop up in the form of composer Zachary Watkins’ experimental art sound and Massimo Conti’s black-and-white nude photographs, projected on a big screen, all punctuated by the clickety-clack sound of an ongoing ping-pong tournament. (Miller was a passionate player; the Library’s executive director Magnus Toren is, too.)
That’s a pretty eclectic and expansive party for a publication. It’s warranted.
The Ping Pong launch party begins 11am Saturday, Aug. 9 with the ping-pong tournament and readings at 3pm, at Henry Miller Library, Highway 1, 5 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Big Sur. Free; donations appreciated. 667-2574, www.henrymiller.org. The publication is available through the Henry Miller Library website and local bookstores.