November 2006

Blake Butler


Poste Restante by Derek White

In the foreword to his new collection, Derek White reveals how most of the 34 short pieces were composed in the dark while coming in or out of sleep. Poste Restante is the latest in a magnficent line of publications from a small independent press called Calamari Press, presided over by Mr. White. In roughly four years they've managed to forge a reputation not only for linguistic excellence but for writing with unmistakable identity, including titles by aesthetically innovative authors such as Peter Markus and John Olson. Like William Burroughs or Ben Marcus before him, White trolls a terrain known to most only under the influence of via heavy sedation or REM. The stories here are multi-layered and often turn in on themselves. Characters shift identities; they are transformed by their surroundings. As disparate images and unrealities collide into one another, they mesh the mystical with the familial, the folklorish with pop culture.

To White's credit, the stories do not suffer from the brand of symbolic rambling that often accompany fiction hewn from dreamstates. His plots, while often shape-shifting, veering from one end to another, manage to absorb the reader rather than maintaining the impenetrability of hieroglyphics. Each individual unit has its own history, its own assumed background if you will; and together they form a collage, a sort of textbook of hidden minds. As often as it is intense or surreal or nightmarish, the stories use their fanaticism to make you chuckle or squeeze your knee. In "Field Trip to an Emergent Volcano," Johnny Rotten and Jesus Christ take children out on a field trip to active volcano; in "Body of Evidence," a man bowls by throwing himself down the lane. Rather than exploiting their strangeness, though, the stories seem to feed off one another. Like the detached sentimentality often evoked after time spent in one's own dreams, the stories seem hungry to communicate the things humming within them; they want to transfer their energy into a remote location.

Beyond the bedtime logic and bizarre landscape, it is White's often playful and incantatory language that turns the head. The sentences seem to linger a while after they're gone. Like Lydia Davis, White can turn a phrase, and is adept at honing his sentences down to their barest, most effective ends. It is partially because his words are so rhymthmic and even soothing that the stories are able to mimic the dreamstate they channel from so well. They slip in the back door and snake around you. Soon you're neck-high where you hadn't realized you were wading.

The title Poste Restante refers to mail that is held over by the post office, an intermediary destination for things sent to people who have no particular place it can be delivered. Appropriately, embedded within the text are a series of "Exhibits," collaged images often as textured and provocative as the stories themselves. Together they invoke a sort of handbook to the dreamworld, a placebo substitute for sleeping pills. Poste Restante is worthy of sitting on your nightstand to help nurse you in and out of elsewhere.

Poste Restante by Derek White
Calamari Press
ISBN: 097707236
122 Pages