Welcome to our new interview series, “Contributors’ Corner,” where we open the floor each week to one of our contributors to the journal. This week, we hear from Guy Benjamin Brookshire, whose three collages with accompanying captions appear in HFR 3.3.
Guy Benjamin Brookshire was born in Searcy, Arkansas, in 1977, got covered in fire ants in 1980, and traveled widely. He studied poetry at The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, where he met and later married editor and librarian Amanda Choi. They have two girls. He writes and collages in Vallejo, California. He is the author of The Universe War, a collage comic book. New Oldestland, a chapbook of collages and writings is forthcoming from 421 Atlanta in 2014. Hello My Meat, a collaboration with Daniel Beauregard is forthcoming from Lame House Press.
Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
I guess I was about ten or eleven years old and I don’t know why, but I was home alone for some reason in Peach Tree City, Georgia. I guess it must have been 1987. There was one of those really execrable Godzilla movies on TV where the original Japanese movie had been inter-cut with American-produced scenes that had clearly been grafted onto/into the original. It made very little sense, and the feeling I got was incredibly stomach-chillingly eerie. It was like an invasion had occurred or was occurring right before my eyes of one fictional reality into another. My grandfather, one of the most powerful forces in my life not least because I am named after him, had been a Marine wounded on Iwo Jima among a long list of other mysterious exploits, (mysterious because he never directly talked about them, only tangentially referred to them, and though other people often talked about the unusual extent and intensity of his service—he had joined the Marines in 1938 or 39 and had seen more island hopping than most men who survived—they rarely did so in his presence. There was so much unspoken and unspeakable. (This of course fascinated me to the point of obsession.) And the war in the Pacific had taken on truly mythic status for me. So the strict segregation of this Japanese monster/disaster movie from the overlordship of an entirely extraneous American occupying movie had an effect on me I still don’t fully understand. My parents also had HBO, and on that channel was a war movie called Gallipoli, an interminably long Australian melodrama starring a very young Mel Gibson who, with a doomed friend, is part of the disastrous British Imperial invasion of Turkey in World War One. Most of the movie is pure period piece atmospherics in which these two post Victorian colonial and colonized Aussies navigate a civilization that is already as doomed as they are, in which European colonial powers dominated the world with utter and unshakable confidence in their beliefs, as though it was the virtuous innocence of such young men that was the source of their power … and perhaps, in a way, it was. A mid-movie scene has the boys enjoying an excursion in a Souk and encountering pornographic postcards, which both scandalize and intrigue them, and though they are clearly sexually aroused and interested, they only speak of them in scathingly disapproving moral terms … perfectly mirroring my own mentality at the time.
My grandmother is Scottish, from Scotland, and her father was in the British Imperial army, and I heard stories about him fighting Pathans at the edge of the Empire, and Boers in South Africa. And I made some strange genetic connection between Gallipoli and his adventures.
Both movies were deadly dull for a ten year old, and my interest could be described as proto-academic. I was in full analytical mode. The Godzilla movie, no doubt exacerbated by the oafish inter-cutting of after the fact American content onto an already bad Japanese movie simply made no headway, and yet there was tension building as American Naval officers consulted in breathless tones about impending disaster, and Gallipoli drifted lazily towards disaster. Flipping back and forth between these movies it was easy to sort of see them all as one big, messy, irrational, self-contradictory narrative. A world of my own, not my own. Alone in this house, my house, become strange to me through loneliness. And as the Gallipoli campaign trudged towards its massacre, I somehow knew what was coming. I knew about World War One, about the slaughter, about the meat-grinder trenches, but I associated that with gray skies in Flanders and German enemies, not deserts and Turks. It was unreal and romantic and almost science-fiction, or steam-punk-ish (though I’m still not sure what that means). And I associated the impending Japanese disaster with the nuclear bomb, which very much haunted my childhood imagination. And then it happened.
There was a scene in the Japanese movie where south sea island maidens were dancing in grass skirts in front of a big fire to crazy manic drums in order to appease the volcano god, which was actually Godzilla somehow. And of course this made no sense. And of course this was inter-cut with scenes of B movie actor naval officers in mismatched day for night scenes looking on with studiously meaningful expressions of intense interest, the same expressions over and over again, because it was the same cut of film repeated, looking on at something the actors never saw. And the dance lasted forever. The actresses were all Japanese in a deep red-brown grease paint intended to simulate a race of south sea islanders that never were, and their coconut bras and tinsel grass skirts jiggled and swayed in a bizarre indictment of raw sexuality that had nothing to do with dance. And I felt a guilty, awful, animal, wicked fascination. There was a strange, violated virginity about the “dancers”—Japanese women in brown face defying the fetishized pristine girlishness of Japanese femininity in an uncanny masquerade. A psycho-sexual racist pantomime that I still contend was as beautiful as anything ever devised by Buzby Berkeley or Merce Cunningham for that matter. It was too beautiful and stupid and nonsensical and pornographic to be endured. I was in love, I was offended in ways I did not understand. I was in a dream. I was awakened. And the atomic bomb was looming behind the screen.
I turned the channel and Australians were erupting into death-like popcorn as they leapt from dusty trenches into the teeth of faceless wicked Turkdom and its chattering German machine guns. Literally faceless the Turks: they wore goggles under their strange eastern helmets and covered their mouths with masks and mustachios. And the boys died and died and died with fluttering union jacks atomizing into jets of spraying blood as the lead snarled into their guts. And the pornographic postcards were covered in blood?
And I began constructing a history of my own, an alternative history, a universe, another earth in my dreams where the forces of history: undefeated innocence, boyish exuberance, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori, King and Country, Naval officers with pit stains leering at island lasses triumphant and serious in a technicolor south sea paradise, would eternally confront the geologic, volcanic forces of a dark, chthonic nemesis, the inevitable corruption of the sexual disease, the wicked seductions of our violated victims, the failure of our best intentions, The emergence of the brilliant, perverse sublime, the childhood erection that persists, even as the mushroom cloud ejaculates pure horror over the harbor at Nagasaki.
That was the beginning of my formalized childhood fantasy world. I called my favorite, doomed nation Clarissia. I fought in trenches of an unending war to end all war, I sailed the seas of a Lovecraftian tropical nightmare realm, I made an invincible empire drowning under waves of warlike tribes. I came to believe the forces of history are romantic, in a sexually violent sense. I have yet to recover.
What are you reading?
Beyond the Reach of Empire: Wolseley’s Failed Campaign to Save Gordon and Khartoum, by Colonel Mike Snook:
“The failure, by two days, of Sir Garnet Wolseley’s expedition to save General Gordon from the forces of the Mahdi besieging Khartoum is one of the great tragedies of Victorian military history. Colonel Mike Snook’s narrative of the Gordon Relief Expedition is characterized by scrupulous attention to detail, an instinctive grasp of the period and an intimate understanding of its setting. When the author explains how, in a supremely violent ten minutes, a British square was broken at the Battle of Abu Klea, he does so with rare authority, in unprecedented detail and with the benefit of many intriguing new insights. the Battle of Abu Kru is similarly afforded a level of attention it has never before received. The text is supported by modern photography of the battlefields.
“The author argues compellingly that Khartoum affair was mismanaged from the outset, not only at a political level but also militarily by Garnet Wolseley and the officers of the ‘Wolseley Ring’. The outcome is the exoneration of the man cast in the role of scapegoat and an indictment of Wolseley’s generalship over the course of the last and most deeply flawed campaign of his career.”
Can you tell us what prompted your collages in HFR?
A desire to create a history free of the entanglements of reality.
What’s next? What are you working on?
I am working on a literary fantasy novel that includes a lot of maps and a corresponding narrative board game/card game.
Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
It is fashionable to deny that there is such a thing as objective truth, but people who have been lied to know there is such a thing as the truth.