Never Negotiate: Sam Pink – Manuel Marrero
May 1, 2018
“Things like that. Things that seem sometimes possible but only at certain times, and only if you didn’t tell anyone. Because your thoughts are all you have.” – Witch Piss. 2014.
Having spent all of April and much of the previous two months mind-melding with Sam Pink’s voluminous body of work (let’s set the bar for prolific, so as to never cheapen the sentiment by lowering it again…all else of merit equal: five novels. And from there it gets hazy – six books not easily indexed by form, a handwritten chapbook, an e-book – traipsing freely around stylistic modes in his signature, feral pussycat voice; plays, poetry, flash fiction, short fiction and poetry, with more already in the cannon), his thoughts reverberated, kinetic like a spring coil or tail lashing the inside my skull, thoughts that addled mine, my own spring equinox freighted by a rash of personal apocalypses that made this essay the single-minded pursuit of escape, or more accurately, the only thing I had time for beyond the comings and goings of mortal inevitability. The part of my brain that consumed media was a petri dish struck by the bolt of Sam Pink’s anarchic, not unpleasantly meandering worldview. I started to view my own bleak urban malaise through Sam’s set-ups and deliveries, a zen-like humility of passive observation, internalization and ludic participation. I felt myself becoming a person, as one book suggests.
Sidebar: I first heard of Sam Pink in 2012, while I was sleeping on a floor mattress in a 4×4 loft space in Brooklyn, rooming with a rotating cast of creatively inclined working stiffs – a lawyer, financier, programmers – ours was the uncanny valley of bohemian approximation so lucratively synthesized by Lena Dunham, whose roundly popular TV series was always on at the time. I still maintain there was no better place to have spent my 20s than the Big Apple, and while I return to my most cherished memories in private, I can tell you that our rooftop had a 360 degree breathtaker of the M track, prewar religious architecture, and graffiti mosaics, and you can imagine what it was like to share this. Every weekend it was de rigeur to haunt nudist rooftop parties, shows, readings, you get the point. It was a regular island of borrowed time on the margin of a widening gyre between encroaching slumlords and the last vestiges of the old New York state of mind, say what you will about that having long gone – everyone’s maiden decade in New York being conveniently, decisively the best – but even as a facsimile, that shit got us high off our asses long enough to start taking writing seriously, fall in love, and do everything we were supposed to do in our 20s. So I was proximal to the then exploding Alt Lit scene, the long lost tumblrs of liquid age lore doubling over in irony and self-reference, the seapunk aesthetic, and the frequent readings hosted by Tao Lin with his then-protegée Marie Calloway. And it was in this climate fraught with recombination and gestation, of the means being expanded and the autonomous being tested by the ever-shapeshifting cottage industry, that I was handed a copy of his debut novel Person. Sam Pink will be reading at McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan on May 2nd, and on one such glorious Brooklyn rooftop on May 3rd. And let me be unequivocal: nothing, not this essay or any other, will prepare you for the plethora of genuine laughs that pepper Sam Pink’s literary oeuvre and abound at attendant readings. Count yourself among the very lucky if you are able to attend one. And, in what will likely become an echoing refrain in this series, let me urge you now to stop reading me and shit, go look at some of Pink’s fine art, which dazzles the eyes, straddling a sort of warped cubism and surrealism, with details to get lost in; shifty line work and totemic feline figures, bold hot pinks, cobalts and deep charcoal blacks, works that represent a desperate urgency present only in art that is made to live in the moment, by the hand of the moment that feeds, hallucinations brought on by paint fumes and that raw, voracious energy to forge something elusively meaningful from a loss of appetite for cheap thrills and freedoms. The edifice of creative energy is finite, so you better let the faucet run, conduit hum, and get over your hangups about content creation as separate from distribution, to form as different from content.
On Person (2010):
Even from his debut novel, it’s apparent that the narrator in Sam Pink’s work is a character comfortable moonwalking between id and ego, with a murder in his heart that defies superego as it burns a hypothetical scenario at both ends before dispersing into butterflies, or laughs, a release after eliding on a painful emotion, choler caught in throat, compartmentalized in service of movement and levity. In his early work, the other characters are shadows passing through: brother, roommate, ex-girlfriend, to quote Rontel (2013), “Just another person I don’t interact with.” One thing is deceptively salient: unlike most authors who could be considered minimalist, Sam Pink’s trajectory vaults and zig-zags, catching waves of introspection that break and disperse, rinse and repeat. It’s not the authentic observations of quotidian and eccentric happenings that stand in stark relief, but the life of the mind. The trick is one of understatement: by presenting as an evergreen everyman with a slightly askew lens, shielding the gurgling gas pit of his humanity, Pink reaches out, places you astride him (even insomuch as The No Hellos Diet was rewritten in second person) as you gradually realize what a weirdo he is and grow comfortable with him and yourself. Person is a harlequin fetus of a novel; one touch and its papery flesh peels away its heart on sleeve. It is a melancholy book, one that cleans its own clock, much like the hirsute, anguished and bug-eyed cartoon on the cover. He’s driving the human skeleton, and learning the cockpit controls. He’s wagging his rat tail, but he’s a stranger projecting from the outside in, not yet the deft comedian skin graft he lays over the chassis by his next book.
MM: I remember back when ‘Alt Lit’ was still a thing that didn’t make people cringe, there was this somewhat pejorative idea, accurate or not, that this new crop of ‘internet writers’ were ‘writers who didn’t read.’ Even back then, you stood out to me because you clearly demonstrated enough command of cadence and form to be an avid reader.
SP: I used to read a lot and think it’s important. I really can’t stand the people who get into art/lit and then seem to basically hate it. I mean sure, a lot of the scene/world of it sucks, but like, why are we doing this? I’m not sure ‘why writing’ but I think I’ve figured out it’s all about energy. Not in a hippy way, but like, every human has a certain amount. Like a dog. Like how if you take your dog for a long walk, they will be happy. If not, they will eat your shoes. And for me, my life/mind immediately go to shit if not directed, and for whatever reason, I like to draw and write, almost like continually cleaning a constantly dirty place.
MM: In trying to contextualize your writing, you elude it. It almost could’ve been written in any time or city, with virtually no references to modern technology, or not too many references to drugs, politicizing…I think it puts you in direct descent from pre-internet literary fiction. ‘Nothing has any inherent value other than what it is.’ There’s an ecstasy in verbal precision.
SP: I don’t like using a lot of pop culture references or time related references for a couple reasons. One is, to explain alienation, it’s best to describe what it is. Like, you know what ‘Taco Bell’ is because it’s been branded to you forever but what is Taco Bell? To describe it in more literal details is both funnier, and more accurate in describing how alienating it is. Imagine the difference between saying ‘American Gladiators’ and ‘a game show on TV where people beat each other up with foam weapons.’ The former is ‘cool/on brand,’ the latter is ‘what it really is.’ I think it comes from wanting to ‘break stuff down.’ Like so many times I’m in a situation, or hear people talking, or whatever, and there’s so much that isn’t broken down.
On The No Hellos Diet (2011):
Here he takes the life of the mind and externalizes it as an exercise through the fatigue of drudgery and the fraternity that develops with those unlikely companions we are forced into tight spaces and schedules with. It’s far from a round hole, square peg situation, and, from a technical point, approaches mastery. If you’re not in stitches reading about technically ‘yourself’ engaging in water cooler banter with a vulgar coworker carrying the unfortunate sobriquet of ‘Sour Cream,’ Iono, you might wanna get that checked out or something. Besides splitting sides, the whole thing is soulful, and the choice to run in 2nd person…who am I to intellectualize these sublimated frequencies, it doesn’t feel cheeky at all or retroactively applied but natural, like it found its way here via reverse engineering the voice to its elemental unit of connective tissue between reader and writer. By the end of this book one can discern a seasoned writer’s taut muscle memory, and by the next book it becomes a collective memory to be drawn from, as a common reflecting pool, like the accompanying lore that this slim volume is a hit at a women’s prison, the fact that Sam is not just an outsider but handsome and likeable, and you think, you can be a handsome and likeable outsider too, a mensch who lets people speak for themselves rather than talking over them, a world-weary wide-eyed passenger instead of an abject opportunist exploiting misery.
MM: Your narrative voice has been essentially the voice of my solitude of late.
SP: I spend all my time with it, and have even developed ones that talk against it.
MM: With the interview aspects, I want it to be informed but also casual. Like we’re on and off the record.
SP: So like, cups of tea instead of cups of water.
MM: If I’m pulling back the curtain too much, let me know ’cause I get that.
SP: I write on a computer. I like to zone out and ‘be there’ and play the movie back in my head. It helps take ‘me’ out of it as an agent. By agent, I mean, if you’re writing about yourself, you can write through yourself (usually how first drafts/ diary type stuff looks) or you can write about yourself, in which case, you have to view yourself as a character. Not in the sense that you are creating something false, but that you must treat it the same way you would any other character. When I wrote The No Hellos Diet, it was originally in first person, then I switched it to second person, which, I’ve found, is a more direct way of writing about yourself, ironically. Because ‘I’ is every bit a character as ‘Jim/Susie/Whoever.’ I’ll take notes if it’s a joke, usually, because I’ve found without writing down the exact context/wording that initiated it, it’s very hard to think back to the original joke. Also, not relying on notes opens up new avenues because you let your body remember things. For instance, the story “Juliana” from Hurt Others was written years after it happened, and only from memory. And almost all in one sitting.
MM: Bodies know best.
Sam Pink is all business. Moves the mic on the lectern aside and starts yelling across the room.
There’s the business of moving units and the business of heart.
“You’re not at Soldier Field,” he later quips to the rest of us who had read politely into the mic. Nebbishy me and no veteran to public appearances, kissing the thing and secreting nervous saliva and sweat into the circuitry, generating a static buzz and the inkblot impression of fellatio. Cue the magic mushrooms kicking in just as a few of the attendees hear me read “dick.”
It’s not dark but a bad moon’s rising, the killall moon, blood meal served on a hangover’s long silver tongue, and my head’s on fire, overheating at 102.
Sam Pink in Miami, the voice of the alienated, reading on a Sunday in one of our two bookstores. The other bookstore was repurposed that morning as a church.
We converted at breakfast, our souls offered up in exchange for the Lord’s scrambled eggs and the Lord’s crispy bacon. This bookstore serves food and alcohol, and sells shrinkwrapped art books. And our audience, the patrons of the food and alcohol and art books. “Sam motherfucking Pink!” I’ve been yelling since last night. Buy his damn book. Let him mount his heart on a plinth for you.
“Remember where you are. Read something funny, make ’em laugh. Let them discover your deeper work later.” Sam dispenses this invaluable advice while we stroll a boardwalk overlooking the bay. Along our route, we also discuss Charles Bronson’s would-be prospects for the presidency, belittle Hollywood, namecheck ELO, and I mention how this same boardwalk was a river for two long blocks from the dock the day Irma hit. We pass a pile of boats with damaged hulls, fresh graffiti tags markered on. We dart from topic to topic.
“[Miami] it’s kinda like L.A. but whereas L.A. is all green and health-conscious, here it’s just like ‘we have money and we do whatever the fuck we want.'”
There’s something both disarmingly earnest and reassuring about a guy who’s made it his indefatigable crusade to distill modernity’s malaise by dicing himself on a cutting board, everyone wanting a piece of his stories for their well-being, to feel less alone, building cultural corridors from the Midwest to other planets, befriending editors and publishers and earning adulation and widespread devotion from the far-reaching ideological and lifestyle spectrum. But it’s not just adulation, it’s recognition of a real-time real world player you don’t wanna snooze on, lest you find yesterday’s blind spot in the rearviews you were supposed to rip out, damn the torpedoes. His almost patriotic commitment attests to an iron code, might give rise to the question about whether all this is homogenous/interchangeable, which is asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is, does the inexorable velocity and dimension and momentum make you wanna pull over and check the tires? Maybe it’s the midwest, but Sam’s personality cuts right through all manner of tired facade and takes the fire from your eyes before giving it back.
The reading is billed as “An Evening with…” A few other towering figures in indie lit open to a typical lazy Sunday hangover crowd comprised mostly of peers and bookstore staff. But it might as well be prime time dunking on the Grammys in a basement burlesque with a bathtub full of liquid codeine. Pink oozes an air of self-possessed professionalism and eclipses. His command of the room is platonically good, as in the platonic ideal of what a reading ought to be. Tuckered out from browsing books no one would pretend to afford, the peripatetic patrons wander over. I can’t place when, but at some point during Pink’s screed, I turn around and they’ve magnetized toward this man’s signature load-bearing charisma, bulletproof and bearing fruit that the seed of my master of ceremonies/glorified hypeman bluster could not.
He owns his unimpeachable headliner status, and on that Sunday evening, in the wake of hangover, everyone in periphery gravitates toward the room to catch him batting a homerun. Laughter. Tears. Fuck blisters popped forever.
The crowd at the high-end bookstore could not have brooked more daylight with the crowd at the literature slam/punk show hybrid the night before, where the spectators ranged from teenage jailbait to the drummer of Deerhoof and his improbably foxy girlfriend. We ventured into crunk club territory in search of more dizzying highs, only to rebound back to each other, to the dull flame of camaraderie we lit of irrepressible warmth and Cohibas, Haitian food and creative energy. Sam Pink, Brian Alan Ellis, Ted Prokash, Mallory Smart, Casey Buhr and I made for a glam entourage. It felt like a meta-homecoming of sorts, all the way at the end of America, where we’ll always be crystallized.
It’s pretty to think Sam Pink’s two year residency in Florida will be fondly recalled by our AI overlords as something like Hemingway’s stint in Key West, or Iggy Pop’s decampment in Miami, but all its own, it’s a term on the peninsula culminating in a crown jewel, the release of The Garbage Times/White Ibis, which officially lands as of the date on this essay.
MM: So you think it’s surging again…
SP: I think it’s surging because now I’m in a position where people send me manuscripts and a lot of them have been excellent.
On Rontel (2013)
Careening and caroming at probably the most decisively succinct and succulent document of Pink’s stand-up comedian-like prowess, this is a book named after a cat. The cat is the only named character. The narrator wanders around Chicago, bending physical scenarios in his mind like iron bars. He has trained his mind like so, to view aberrant behavior through a comically deranged lens, a wry sense of humor that is like a toy with an elegant mechanism and infinite uses. The same parts that work, with as many permutations as constellations and chess games, or more accurately, boxing matches. Pink sings in a minor key with an ear for angular left hooks and dissonance like pugilism while other writing is wrestling or marathon running. Desultory, sharp, flattening tones. Limber, balletic. As indispensable and inimitable a voice as they come. Sam’s fiction as a whole begins to resemble an arc.
Two much cough syrup and coffee, my head suspended in that awkward negative space between relief and adrenaline, like sleep paralysis. It gets more involved.
MM: Seldom have I laughed out loud so much reading a book, while feeling almost bad about what I’m laughing at, like gallows humor. Did you learn anything subliminally even, from comedy, out of curiosity?
SP: Oh absolutely. Comedy/comedians are dark as fuck by the way. The happier a comedian seems, the darker and more fucked up they are, which is where comedy is born, from fighting the pain. Improv comedy in Chicago, at least like ten years ago or so, deeply influenced me. The level of absurdity they reach is really beautiful. It’s real art. Also, what better way to expend darkness/bad energy, than making someone laugh? It’s both joyous and positive, and deeply evil. Laughter and comedy are evil, when done right. Because you’re laughing at life – SOME DEVIL SHIT.
MM: A lot of your passages could be deconstructed as really elegant stand-up; there’s set-up, rug-pulling, reductio ad absurdum… Is Sam Pink the end of literature, like Meltzer thought Hendrix’s death signaled rock and roll’s death knell?
SP: I don’t think literature is anywhere near done. In fact I think it’s about to surge again. Whenever society sucks the most, you will get good writing. Good writing is just smart people venting.
MM: I think I thought of the end of literature because your writing is classically informed, yet the means is innovative, like mounted to a piece of cardboard, of modernity, like you have an ebook, you do most of your own artwork, control the message on social media, all trappings of the modern DIY literary economy.
SP: I think it’s easier than ever for people to take control entirely on their own. Obviously, that’s going to produce some shit, but also, make way for really amazing stuff. We need some good journals and some good new presses too. The internet is proof that freedom is good, but for many, scary.
“Like, that’s what you choose to do with your freedom?” Sam asks rhetorically as I nurse my umpteenth beer of the day, the tax I pay for the hand I’m dealt, one of chronic and debilitating social anxiety. I know what he means though. I don’t drink to drown my sorrows, and no amount of fun is worthy of a hangover tantamount to a spiritual crisis, a check my mouth writes at the bar and bounces when the bank opens. It’s easy to waste freedom monitoring and micromanaging your body’s response to an addiction to Too Much Fun, to feeling utterly free without actually being free, but tethered to a supply and demand chain of dopamine.
On Hurt Others (2011)
The riffs in these stories remind me of Urinals songs. Particularly, it’s like that one song by 100 Flowers, “Contributions.” They’re creepy and menacing in a tender way, awash with subtle neuroses, cut deep and cut off like a dopesick alien. The warm current of emotion suffusing these stories is almost entirely subtextual, or at least self-effaced, a buried lead. If I got a stethoscope reading on these, it would return disingenuous results. It’s coy and biting as the most brusque poetry. Phrases jump at you like he snuck into your room while you were sleeping and wrote them on your eyelids. Spiked your punch with Aguardiente. He is writing in invisible ink. He is bleeding his blood into the American vernacular, and writing a lingua franca for the disaffected who may recognize themselves in a stream of consciousness that is wide awake to the banal misfortunes and hardships and interacts with them as a sentient stream. Pink’s books feel like petting a nimble bobcat who could maim you or purr in your general direction depending on what position the mirror is hung. Manhandle it and the mirror shatters, along with your encrypted reflection in its frame.
MM: Wondering what’s the secret to your work ethic…
SP: Boredom, weed, and wanting to take a piss on the world. Throw in some fast times with cool dudes and hot babes.
On Witch Piss (2014)
There’s a playful pageantry at work here. Namely, a Spider-Man and disabled woman called Janet. And chapters with whimsical Shel Silverstein-like titles. This is the novel that escalates the table stakes of previous novels to World Series stakes. It catwalks over from the deeply introspective side of the street to the gritty, unapologetic side, and flirts with the notion of Chicago as a place to be romanticized. “Things that seemed possible but only if you were desperate enough.” It’s populated by local color characters that open up the claustrophobia of an antisocial, slightly agoraphobic narrator’s internal monologue, and voila, le changement. The fog of ennui lifts, the reader gets invested in the travails of unsavory characters not because they’re funny to laugh at, but because actually, while they may be small and petty, mean-spirited and prone to vice, Pink weighs them, and their lives weigh something. And though they may essentially be fools, they go not unsuffered owing to robust compassion. While reading it, I kept thinking about more educated people I know conceived of every possible advantage, for whom life weighs very little, for whom the day weighs less than that of someone called Spider-Man,
I kept thinking of someone who exists chiefly to be delusional and self-righteous, the real ugly American. These are fast, desperate lives weighed by gravity on display and life support here. It reminds me of the work of John Waters or Robert Crumb, who relish their affinity for low-lives in episodic narratives. The feat here is in getting us to discover our affinity for them.
MM: I think authentic people like you are vital because the independent is always in threat of becoming subsumed by the cottage industry, which changes its name and face to hide what it is constantly, like Clearchannel rebranding as iHeartRadio, or clickbait listicles masquerading as literature…the old ‘capital devours democracy’ trope. Choice literacy becomes more important.
SP: Yeah I feel you. It reminds me of this thing I was told about film one time. Someone told me how some people like to shoot on raw film, because they can manipulate it afterwards, rather than have the equipment do all the work. I’ve thought about that a lot, in terms of art/being a person. The more freedom you have, the harder it is to come through, and the more it requires you to be responsible and intelligent, but it also allows for the deeper…so with the internet/writing, yes, you can parrot what’s going on, be accepted, or you can find a new path, and explain to future significant others’ parents that you’re not violent because you named a book I am Going to Clone Myself then Kill the Clone and Eat It.
On The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Home (2010)
Here’s a collection of short plays, poems and narrative fragments that are discomfiting, bizarre, and showcase the range of Pink’s skill set. There is no comfort zone, only discomfort. Probably as unwholesome as it gets. That he’s clearly able to will beauty from the perverse using say, a play’s format, says a good deal about what a careful, controlled demolition is, where every word mashed counts, and the words unused count just as much. Those pauses and negative spaces are highlighted here.
MM: It’s like the difference between art and decoration that soothes rather than challenges. The McMansion cookie cutter dream, man made lakes and golf courses to give the poor a slice of the affluent life, taken to a level of media consumption. As a native Floridian these suburban nightmares ring true…and the film metaphor is apt. With digital, everything is more malleable, ketchup is blood and you can edit off the cuff.
SP: Exactly, and I discovered it with painting as well. The more I learn about it, the less boundaries and even rules there appear to be, which frees you up. You’ll end up discovering/establishing your own rules, but they’ll be yours, and from a personal tradition.
MM: Yeah, I was surprised when some friends approached me and were like, ready to buy a painting off you, then were surprised when I told them you were also a prolific author.
SP: That’s awesome. Honestly I’ve been thinking about it, and I think it’s that I have a technical mind, but it only seems to work with creative stuff. So figuring out stuff like that is interesting and provoking, and if I’m interested in something, I can easily devote all my time and energy to it. Drawing cartoons/Ninja Turtles/Simpsons stuff was how I interacted with kids in school/wooed girlfriends. If I’m being honest it also stems from never really feeling accomplished. That’s how I grew up, never get too proud of yourself.
On Frowns Need Friends Too (2010)
Here anthologized are some of Sam Pink’s earliest forays into literature, culled from 2007-2009. It’s raw and vulgar like phoned-in grindcore.
SP: So being alive is, like, a huge waster. No one needs you here and you’re just using resources, which often bothers the shit out of me (in relation to myself) so I try and correct it by making cool shit. ‘Hey that guy is eating and shitting and wasting time like me, but one time he made me laugh so he’s ok i guess.’
MM: Haha, yeah. I vibe with the technical mind comment. I think because if you’re not applying that left brain creatively, it’s not truly yours. You’re learning someone else’s game. I learned this at school.
SP: Yeah there’s a special feeling when, for better or worse, you made something unique. Like, at least I used my time on Earth to try. I think a lot of it is the joy of sharing. Like how people say giving is better than receiving. And that’s at least partially true. Like when you get an awesome gift for someone, it feels really good. I enjoy sharing things I think people will like. Recently had a weird moment while drawing where I thought ‘this is weird’ but then remembered my grandpa, who was a serious/mechanical kind of person, who would make really elaborate paper airplanes. When he first showed me, I was surprised, and also thought ‘what the fuck, why do this?’ and then I was drawing and realized I have the same inclination and it felt good. And everyone has that inclination in some way. It’s what makes being a human different than being an animal. Like in White Ibis, the girlfriend’s mom character throws really elaborate parties, and to some that might seem silly, but then you hear people comment on their experience at her parties, and it’s really sweet. I think it boils down to people really just feeling like they want to provide interesting things for each other like, it’s a real joy when someone shows up at a reading not knowing anything about what I do, and then I do it, and they seem surprised.
MM: Yeah, I think it’s how certain people know how to give their love, through special things they put themselves into, like parties, or cooking, or books. Sometimes it’s misunderstood, and that’s where the vulnerability comes in. I like how your books aren’t whitewashed in any way; you lay bare your thoughts.
SP: Yeah I like books/writing like that. It reminds me most of Fante/McClanahan. People who can be themselves without being the moral authority. They write themselves as a clown to make a point. Or, not a clown, but not above error, and then the way they react to error is endearing and more human than when people do the ‘I am the ultimate authority handing down my ideas’ robot stuff. I am immediately calmed by people like that, even if their thoughts/they are kind of fucked up. It’s more refreshing than someone who is clearly hiding a lot of unexpressed shit.
MM: Because it’s true. It’s like empathy should you choose to accept it. No inherently good or bad thoughts.
SP: Right exactly, like what’s more important, someone who fucks up, thinks about it, corrects it, or something who is just magically right all the time. You have to teach people by learning in front of them.
MM: As a spiritually inclined person, truth and humility are the pillars. Knee-jerk reactionary stuff is the enemy of clarity. Even in say competition/conflict, there’s tremendous value in being able to understand/empathize with how your opponent thinks. People who tout themselves as moral authorities are like tourists in reality. What’s more endearing than imperfect honesty. McClanahan and Fante are such great examples.
SP: Yeah for sure. Nobody does the ‘going from arrogant asshole to victim of one’s own arrogance’ better than Fante.
MM: Yeah, Ask the Dust jumps to mind…where he chases the girl who doesn’t love him. Both authors are fearless in working out their flaws, humiliating themselves almost, in service of truth. Bukowski is kind of the opposite, in that he’s always the badass hero in his stories…
SP: It’s the difference between telling a child 2+2=4 and actually showing them two groups of two being added together.
On No One Can Do Anything Worse to You Than You Can (2012)
Why are you still reading this? “I encourage you to hurt others, and consider this your greatest success.” If that’s not galvanic enough to get you off your armchair and throw some skin in the game, consider that this is another collection of primal bleats and moans from the darkest recesses, the anatomically grotesque considerations of a sentient animal, performing a walk of self-immolation for your entertainment and enrichment. If that’s not the highest risk/highest reward ratio for an artist, I don’t know. Recommend not overthinking this dose and taking it straight to the dome.
On Your Glass Head Against the Brick Parade of Now Whats (2016)
Recommend rubbing spines with Sun Tzu’s the Art of War and the I Ching or some shit. Instructive zen manuals. The bazaar of wise chestnuts, the emporia of oblique epiphanic boomerangs you can’t catch but clock you in the eye, the symposium of sloganeering, the open-ended freeform anti-traditionalist so succinct they could be tattoos, or palindromes, koans, with all the brutish force of guttural emotion. Pearl clutching hall monitors can skip this one.
On I Am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat it (2012)
More writings from Pink’s infancy, this is the best curated of these collections, and one that I arrived to late. One such startling gory spectacle is the symphony of self-mutilation and body horror that is “My Career.” Also contains some of his most quietly despairing and terribly, austerely beautiful pieces.
On The Collected Suicide Notes of Sam Pink (2013)
Okay, you get it. Sam Pink is extremely visible and also a generous class act, graceful, humble even, in spite of a prodigious capacity for volume. He’s accessible to anyone he deems sincere. This one is nice. Very little that’s previously unreleased, but curation goes a long way. Hardback with a glossy book jacket, looks fucking fly on a bookshelf next to Frank O’ Hara.
On Manicure by Clawing Decline (2017)
Limited handwritten chapbook I feel pretty lucky to have gotten my hands on. What looks like anything from pen ink to drug residue to a cigarette burn, a seal of authenticity. Hilarious imaginings within. Handwriting is appropriately crazed, and legible! Artwork is like a futurist tribal tattoo.
On The Garbage Times/White Ibis (2018)
From the urban blight of concentration camp concrete jungles to the wildlife dioramas of Central Florida, their broad expanses, flora and fauna, and unchecked libertarian freedom, Sam Pink crashes into the trappings of my homestate with nothing less than I’d expect from him. The two companion piece novellas are to be read in the correct order, as this is an arc we’re talking about, one of revelatory self-discovery for our well-traveled narrator. It was a treat reading Sam’s accurate treatment of Florida, where well-meaning people live permanent vacations even when juggling multiple jobs, as an analogue to heartache and growth. As a sailor navigating the existential sea with a rusty sextant and his ear to the wind, his economy of language mirrors that of Camus without the cathartic, effusive climaxes. Like his narrator would never shoot an Arab, but he might think about smoking crack with that Arab if it meant the Arab would be his friend. He is a freefalling passenger on this detonated airship, surfing the vacuum, edgier and gutsier than anyone this much a known quantity should have the right to be. Because unlike most already accomplished authors, Sam still wants that danger in his life. There’s nothing paint by numbers about it; Sam’s work is emancipatory because anything is worth thinking about and any thought can be vindicated through the redemptive process of creation. And oh yes, the laugh quotient be high, and the pathos as heartbreaking as he gets. Rich, interior lives married to vivid locations, and those people as locations, and emotional environments. Feeling less and more human all the time. A fitting capstone for now, a snapshot reel of the last two plus years, until his next collection drops and you reexamine your priorities straight again. May you rise to meet the moment when it’s them or you, and may your most clutch instincts be strategically informed by the eternal quest for that good feeling.
MM: So you through with Chicago for good? Or just looking for something new?
SP: Yeah I think I’m done here. It’s a great place and I owe it a lot but I can’t help but see how miserable it is here now. The freedom and feeling of Florida opened my eyes.
MM: Always new catharses just ’round the bend. The freedom of Florida fucking terrifies me. Why is Chicago miserable now?
SP: Honestly I think I’ve always thought that. Had the thought the other day that everyone who loves Chicago also hates it. It’s mostly just the juxtaposition of being in Florida and now here. I think mostly I’ve just been here too long.
MM: Ha, your Chitown books aren’t exactly a ray of sunshine or 21 gun salute to the city. I think I’ve always been ambivalent to places I lived.
SP: That’s kind of what I like about it here ironically. No one glorifies it like New York or L.A.
MM: I feel you. White Ibis is definitely a turning point for you. It’s the most poignant thing you’ve ever written.
SP: Damn, thanks man. Felt special doing it.