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Peter Markus

Peter Markus is the author of Good, Brother (AWOL Press / reissued by Calamari Press), Bob, Or Man On Boat and We Make Mud (Dzanc Books), The Moon is a Lighthouse (New Michigan Press), and The Singing Fish (Calamari Press).

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"Markus serves up sentence after sentence of startling musicality. These aren't stories in any traditional sense; they are works of a prose stylist with the ear of a poet."

– Peter Conners, American Book Review

“Markus has found, in mud, his monumental subject and, in the minute changes he rings on it, makes an incremental music that–hypnotic—transfixes us. We stand, as does he, in awe of the creation myths that we, as children, devise—for joy and as a stay against the darkness.”

– Norman Lock, author of Grim Tales

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We Make Mud

Something About A Keeper—Peter Markus’s We Make Mud

03/08/12

When I was a kid, my dad and his brother and his brother’s sons and I would go fishing for trout a lot. We’d go out to a lake in Eastern Washington. We’d catch a lot, throw back a lot. Keep a few to barbecue. We used a lot of charcoal. My dad and his brother would send us cousins and brothers out for paper plates and the small kind of grills they sell for twenty bucks at the bait shop.

I don’t remember learning how to gut a fish but I remember the gutting. I remember having a dream once out there at the lake, about being gutted myself, a knife running me up from asshole to mouth, some giant thumb the size of a knee cleaning me out and running me under an enormous hose. I remember telling my dad and cousin-brothers and uncle about it. One of them said, Yeah, I’ve had that dream.

This, for me, was some way of defining family.

Reading Peter Markus’ most recent book, We Make Mud, I felt myself again and again reeled back to those fishing trips, and I’ve been trying to figure the why. It’s a marvelous thing, this book, one that makes good on the promise of the shorter, previous story books Good, Brother and The Singing Fish. And like those, in We Make Mud makes much music out of a deliberate, repetitive river-language of fish and brothers. From the title story:

“Us brothers, we kept reaching down, with our hands, down into the mud. We kept on with our hands reaching down, into the mud, and when we did, us brothers, we kept on pulling up mud. But then once, when we reached with our hands down into the mud, us brothers, we pulled up Girl. We pulled Girl up, out of the mud, until Girl became a tree. Us brothers, up this girl tree, up, us brothers, we climbed.”

But like a muddy river, you can’t step into the same Peter Markus sentence twice. The continually torquing and repeating language wraps you up, disorientingly, more like lahar than river, until all you see is the river and the fish and mud. And perhaps this is what it is that reels me back to childhood. From “The Singing Fish”:

“Look here: there was a dirty river in our dirty river town. There were dirty river fish in this here dirty river that us brothers liked to catch. There was a house, just up from this river, with a back-of-the-yard part where, us brothers, we liked to take the fish that we’d catch out of this dirty river and, us brothers, we liked to chop off the heads off these fish.”

It’s childlike, this simplicity, in which a world forms slowly, and out of repetition. As kids we do the same thing every day. We wake. We play. We eat. We play. We sleep. We wake. We play. One day we’re playing and Boy appears. One day we’re playing and Girl appears. It seems as if by magic. Like the first time we tossed dirt into water and made mud.

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2 Comments

  1. Jordan Blum said on 03/16/12 at 10:09 am Reply

    I like how you sort of copy Markus’ language in your opening (refering to your relatives by their connection to your father, not you). Just an observation. Anyway, your exerpts reminds me of the debate over prose poetry (is it fiction? Is it poetry? Is it fiction written with the language manupulation of poetry?). And I think your exerpts show how writers can convey a lot about characters’ personalities not by what happens, but by how we’re told about what happens.

    Reply

    Joseph Riippi said on 03/16/12 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks, Jordan.

    What you say about “how writers can convey..by how we’re told what happens” is a big part of what I hope for as a reader, and what made me want to recommend WE MAKE MUD. So much writing focuses on what’s being told rather than the telling (one of the books that first made me want to write, JURASSIC PARK, for example) the writing I’ve come to love spends as much–if not more–time on the telling than the told. THE CHRONOLOGY OF WATER, McCarthy, Pinter, etc.

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