For this week’s edition of Feature Friday, we are pleased to bring you an excerpt from Steven Zultanski’s latest book, Honestly, the third title in a trilogy that explores the limits of individual expression. It begins with research into a forgotten relative, and from there the poem swerves into a series of minor-key personal anecdotes, interlaced with conversations with friends about work and relationships. Dialogue takes place in close quarters—constrained by money, space, ego, and empathy.
Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick, calls Steven Zultanski, “a great raconteur.” She adds, “In Honestly, he loquaciously monologues about everything from municipal corruption to asparagus horticulture with charm and authority. But this prose-like poem isn’t merely a filibuster. As it unfolds, Honestly spirals closer and closer to the silence behind speech.”
In a recent review, Rob McLennan writes that Honestly is “a memoir-esque collection of untitled narrative lyrics/lyric narratives that, once opened, is extremely difficult to put down again.” We couldn’t agree more. We hope you enjoy this excerpt from Honestly. Happy Reading!
I don’t remember wanting to be rich.
I don’t remember moving to this city with dreams of living in a
spacious loft with one piece of geometrically abstract art hanging
on each enormous bare white wall.
I’d leave one wall empty. Or maybe I’d leave all the walls empty and the pipes exposed and
the beautiful wooden ceiling unfinished and I’d build tall wide
bookshelves and fill them with hardcover books and unusual
objects, really interesting objects, a mixture of antique curiosities
and sculptural works, and it would be hard at first glance to figure
out what’s art and what’s ornament, which would be part of the
And I’d invite people over after art events.
I’d open my home to others.
Yes, of course, invite your friends, bring them along, all your
friends are welcome.
I’d greet strangers and make them feel at home.
I’d offer them a glass a wine.
I’d see someone standing awkwardly by the bookshelves because
they don’t know many people here and they feel out of place and
unused to being in the homes of the wealthy; they’re excited to
be here but a little unsure of the etiquette and the conversations
seem intimidatingly casual so they’re shyly hanging out near the
books looking over the titles, rereading each spine a few times and
wondering which objects are art, and I’d walk over and start chatting
with them about my collection.
I’d show off a few of the kitschier pieces; I wouldn’t say anything
about the expensive art.
When I met Charlotte for a beer she told me more about her
“She’s probably been schizophrenic for a long time.
She’s paranoid, she rants about things that don’t make sense, makes
a lot of negative statements, talks about how people are evil, says
random dark shit.
She’s obsessed with violence, she sometimes talks about scalping
You know, how to cut someone’s scalp off.
You know what I mean.
So when I learned she was schizophrenic, all of her previous
behavior started to make more sense.
“Guess how I found out?
One day I got a text from my dad at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday
morning that said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you about your mother’s
He had been in denial.
For example, my mother had been hearing things, but my dad
had assumed that the equipment for her sleep apnea was picking
up radio waves and somehow transmitting them to her; he had
decided that she was just hearing the radio.
He was doing some wishful thinking.
“She thought that the government had bugged her house, and the
neighbors were spying on her.
She found a piece of metal in the vent and was convinced that it
was spy equipment.
And now she doesn’t really leave her bedroom.
My dad is stuck at home most of the time too, taking care of her.
“I was never close to her because she’s always been strange.
And so I’ve never tried to talk to her about her mental health.
I usually just ask her how she is, and then I pause in a way that’s
meant to let her know that I’m concerned for her, but she doesn’t
seem to pick up on that.
Or maybe she knows exactly what I’m doing but decides not to
It’s hard to tell.
“She doesn’t deal with anything directly.
My dad mediates the world for her, he wouldn’t let me ask a blunt
question because he knows it would upset her and he wants to
protect her from that.
He would probably interrupt the conversation by kissing the top of
That would be a signal for me to stop talking, hahaha.
He’s always kissing the top of her head.
“But it would be good to figure out how to talk to her, because now
that she stopped drinking my dad started drinking, and the last
time I visited I found him passed out in my mom’s room, on her
He never goes in there, hahaha.
I should probably be in better touch with her.
Just in case.
But even if I worked up the courage to start a serious conversation,
it would still be hard because she’s really dissociative, she changes
the subject without context.
I think her inability to segue or contextualize feeds her paranoia.
Maybe it’s one of the big things that makes her paranoid, because
no one understands her and then she gets frustrated.”
Order your copy of Honestly here.
Steven Zultanski is the author of five books of poetry, most recently On the Literary Means of Representing the Powerful as Powerless (2017) and Bribery (2014). His critical writing has appeared in 4 Columns, Art in America, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Mousee, and elsewhere. In January 2017, an art exhibition inspired by his book Agony (published by Book*hug in 2012) entitled You can tell I’m alive and well because I weep continuously was shown at the Knockdown Center in Queens. Steven lived for many years in New York City but now resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.