Old Introductions: Ron Silliman & Selah Saterstrom
(Tony Tost Introduced Ron)
5. “Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, “That’s a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?” to which they replied, “Yes sir.””
6. Selah Saterstrom’s first book, The Pink Institution, documents a family history that is grotesque in it’s adherence to a sexual code, both physical and gender, that is conveyed in a series of such lessons which are often far more violent than something like a chair through a window.
7. The narrator describes the “Make out game” she was forced to play with her cousin Ruth which involved a piece of paper meant to keep their lips separate, “Ruth would gather her lips around her teeth so that her lips were hard. She would push the paper with her bone mouth into my swollen lips until they were forced to part. The game ended when I ate the paper. She would not stop until I swallowed it. That was the rule.”
8. And this image, of forced and mediated intimacy, is representative of the work as a whole: familial intimacy, affection, love all transformed into weapons and wielded with pitiless abandon against mothers, fathers, sisters, daughters, and granddaughters. This is the twisted South of Faulkner and O’Connor, the world that social etiquette, “manners,” sustains, condones, and keeps unseen.
9. “thirteen bottles of liquor thirteen bottles of liquor a .44 a .44 requested strangulation requested strangulation pyre on fire pyre on fire starvation starvation self willed car accident with small child self willed car accident with small child jumping jumping tumor tumor vomit (possibly accidental) vomit (possibly accidental) severe electrolyte imbalance severe electrolyte imbalance in a swamp, alone in a swamp, alone an insane husband an insane husband an insane husband”
10. In passages such as this scattered throughout the book, the matter of fact tone of the book collapses into a howl, a howl that must be lurking beneath the narrator’s adherence to standard forms of grammar and syntax – beneath her writerly manners so to speak.
11. “It was like the moan was mud and the sounds had stepped out of it. With the moan as backdrop, the sound hovered, vibrating above my mother’s lips for probably few seconds, then the sounds folded. The backs of the sounds collapsed. Like chicken spines breaking. In a high-pitched voice, like it had been stuffed and packed with rubber balloons, she woke speaking, saying, I can talk I can talk.”
12. Selah Saterstrom’s work has recently appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Harness, Monkey Puzzle, 3rd Bed, and in the Seattle Research Institute’s anthology, Experimental Theology. She lives and teaches writing and text/image courses at Warren Wilson College in Asheville.
13. Towards the end of The Pink Institution, Saterstrom attempts to provide some explanation for all this violence – she writes, “It was bodies, what made bodies, and what bodies made. It was illegal separation. It was back-flipping in a five-star padded room. It was the Confederate Memorial Bandstand. It was the sound of birds pecking glass.”
14. Please welcome Selah Saterstrom.