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Unsaid 7 is 300+ pages of innovative fiction and poetry by Masha Tupitsyn, Russell Persson, Ottessa Moshfegh, Stephen Dixon, Mairead Small Staid, Peter Markus, David Hollander, Kate Wyer, Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Phillip Grayson, Katherine Manderfield, Kayla Blatchey, Paul Maliszewski & James Wagner, Joseph Scapellato, Michael Copperman, Elizabeth Gramm, Catherine Foulkrod, Beth Imes, Robin Richardson, Pamela Ryder, Michele Forster, Brian Kubarycz, Jason Schwartz, Richard St. Germain, Naomi Stekelenburg, David Ryan, Robert Lopez, Joseph R. Wojtowicz, Mahreen Sohail, Danielle Blau, Gary Kertis, K.E. Allen, Jordan Gannon, Robin Martin, Dana Inez, Ryan Ries, M Sarki, Tom McCartan, Russell Brakefield, Josh Milberg & Elise DeChard, and Luke B. Goebel.

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from Self-Portrait with Birds, by John Graves


Of all these passers-through, the species that means most to me, even more than geese and cranes, is the upland plover, the drab plump grassland bird that used to remind my gentle hunting uncle of the way things once had been, as it still reminds me. It flies from the far northern prairies to the pampas of Argentina and then back again in spring, a miracle of navigation and a tremendous journey for six or eight ounces of flesh and feathers and entrails and hollow bones, fueled with bug meat. I see them sometimes in our pastures, standing still or dashing after prey in the grass, but mainly I know their presence through the mournful yet eager quavering whistles they cast down from the night sky in passing, and it always makes me think what the whistling must have been like when the American plains were virgin and their plover came through in millions.

To grow up among tradition-minded people leads one often into backward yearnings and regrets, unprofitable feelings of which I was granted my share in youth — not having been born in time to get killed fighting Yankees, for one, or not having ridden up the cattle trails. But the only such regret that has strongly endured is not to have known the land when it was whole and sprawling and rich and fresh, and the plover that whet one’s edge every spring and every fall. In recent decades it has become customary — and right, I guess, and easy enough with hindsight — to damn the ancestral frame of mind that ravaged the world so fully and so soon. What I myself seem to damn mainly, though, is just not having seen it. Without any virtuous hindsight, I would likely have helped in the ravaging as did even most of those who loved it best. But God, to have viewed it entire, the soul and guts of what we had and gone forever now, except in books and such poignant remnants as small swift birds that journey to and from the distant Argentine and call at night in the sky.

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From the Archives : Seven Boards of Skill, by Monica Harhas (From Unsaid 5)


This blank sheet glued itself against the fingers,                                                                                through the arm, among wrinkles                                                                                                        and three atmospheres,                                                                                                                          up into the hair.                                                                                                                                        It hoed volutes behind the ear,                                                                                                              and got inside.                                                                                                                                          I feel the sheet in my head:                                                                                                                    It rustles each time I move                                                                                                                      these colored thoughts                                                                                                                            that trickle in my veins.                                                                                                                          I write it in my eyelids, bite it in my lips.                                                                                            It bends over the collarbone, glides and                                                                                              splashes in my navel:                                                                                                                              A tiny eddy folds it inside me.                                                                                                                Foundation Text.                                                                                                                                      Can’t it be a Text Foundation?                                                                                                              It slowly becomes a kite,                                                                                                                          with fingers that touch it.                                                                                                                        Fingers that write.                                                                                                                                    Small fingers, in shallow darkness.

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“Soren and I Draw a Dead Bee” : An Artistic Partnership Between Mother and Son

Michigan artist Casey Brooks and her son Soren discover and present the world through a series of paired drawings and paintings. A subject is chosen, mother and son each create their interpretation in one sitting. When the images are paired, a stunning and beautiful effect is created – that of simultaneously seeing the world through the eyes of a trained artist and a child. Unsaid applauds this partnership, and posted here are some of the images created by Casey and Soren.








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RIP, Stephen Hess (1980 – 2015)


A Discourse of Walking


Stephen Hess

(from Unsaid 5)


As to not frighten them away everything was made narrow and snug and entirely disallowing the so-called “experience of open space” which was to say that, at the time, we could offer no comfort or relief in the openness and vacuousness and depopulatedness in the world as all these things pointed so directly to the vague and often threatening notions of possibility and potentiality.

What could have come up out of the ground; what might have been said; what would amass and muster and form lines and ranks and flock like birds but instead in perfect geometric shapes?

These were the questions of fields and strangers and the newly-born, language-less, wriggling things and, for the time being, there remained this certain them to whom we could not mention any of this due to the general negativity and misanthropy that is so often associated with those who openly discuss the ranknesses which fill in spaces that have yet to be filled in.


At nighttime our arguments were endless; small groups of two or three of four gathering and sometimes from there growing in size but never to more than ten or twenty or thirty or forty because too many of us could not tolerate the idea of groups in and of themselves and had stated on several occasions that “an agreement between any two minds is the seed of fascism, the endogenous and selfish sprouting-from-within of a plant or tree which subjugates and attempts to fill out its boundaries with a potentially perfect and utopian form”; no, the notion of a large group was too much for us to bear so we kept things small and met in outdoor locales where we could walk or – if the weather was not permitting – we would meet in one of our homes, at a bar, or otherwise in one of the many non-descript and institutional buildings around town, but we were always so disappointed by the insubstantial and limpid conversations we had when unable to walk that we realized we could not execute whatever kind of work it was we wanted to execute from a stagnant position within the walled-rooms of the landlords and proprietors and conglomerates that surrounded us.

While walking we had decided it was possible to find a space in which we could, so to speak, bring together everything which we had always wanted to bring together and, thus, we often found the three or four or fives of us to be speaking out loud all at the same time while walking through the woods and continuing on like this beyond dusk and into the night because we were so certain that our ceaseless noise would be enough to repel the animals which – had we been walking alone – would have crippled us with fear.

Walking, we realized, our only goal was to sustain and prolong our condition of being a small group of people taking a walk; as walkers we could only fail upon the occasion we ceased walking and, thus, instead of demanding “quality,” “agreement” and “comprehensive solutions” from ourselves, we only required a base continuation of the status quo: so long as we could keep on walking and speaking and enjoying the well-oiled machine we made when walking together, we remained happy and smug with our tangible and perhaps tautological success (“We successfully walk when we are walking.”); questions and analysis – as we had said before – would have to wait until we had the time to spread out the nets of our experience, arranging bits of garbage and flecked-stone into a more-believable allegory.


The reason why nothing ever happened was because everyone at the time believed too much in dialectics which allowed for a great deal of residua from the original thesis to remain in the mediated, synthesized, and “new” product; we could not predict which vestige of the past would pop up on the other side but it was always there and soon we realized that with this dialectical and sublative approach to things, we could do nothing more than make a toxic atmosphere by constantly re-circulating a group of inert and outdated ideas.

We had to get as far outside of ourselves as we possibly could yet simultaneously, as individuals, we had to be self-aware and cautious to a degree which we had never been before; we had to chastise ourselves for our tendencies to flock and shoal and, perhaps most importantly, we had to see the omnipresent danger in human-pyramids, synchronized-swimming and most other militant and aesthetically pleasing forms.


When the time had come to discuss all the things we had avoided discussing from the outset of our discussions, we realized the effect of our statements was not as strong as we had grandiosely predicted; after presenting our ideas to the so-called public-at-large, we were received with only a few watered-down questions and, afterwards, a vacuous silence which, according to our theories, ought to have been quickly consumed by a hyper-productive rank growth.

We were in a state of vicious re-coil from everyone around us and found that the kind of walking we had done in the past would no longer suffice as all the worth and value in the act had seeped away during that prolonged silence which, afterward, we discovered – with that poisonous experience still coursing through our bodies and waxing and waning with the systoles and diastoles of our hearts – had scarred us; we discovered that everything that had worked in the past no longer worked and we had no choice but to re-group both collectively and as individuals and find some new kind of action and form with which we could express the anger and emptiness we felt due to the silence and the subsequent self-realization that “from the beginning, it was not them but us who were afraid of whatever tired and wound-less gap our efforts had opened up.”


We wanted a wider experience of things which can be seen in the fact that we continued to walk frequently in groups of two or three or four or five, but instead of overflowing with the self-absorbed and many-layered speech that we had become accustomed to in the past, we were silent and listened to the sounds of the animals around us and, after we had studied their distant cries for some time, we admitted that despite our previous fears we wanted to attract them; we knew that we could no longer carry on in these small groups and, even if only to console ourselves, we needed to assimilate into the larger world around us and we thought – from perhaps somewhere in the back of our minds – that animals could help us in remedying this unfortunate situation.

And even after the animals did not come and we found ourselves deep in the woods late at night we did not fall into argument like we would have in the past and instead we remained focused on the situation at hand until we came upon a group of men and women who were wearing gowns so baggy that – lying supine as they did – their skirts were stood up like tents around their bodies, some of them had even hung lanterns inside in order to read or play solitaire and, upon seeing us and how devastated we appeared to be, they invited us to rest with them inside their individual tents which were so warm and made us appear as if fetuses from the outside.

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Unlost: John Kehoe : from Q29 and Q30

Unlost is a way, or perhaps a place, where together we can read writing that is singular, important and attentive, that was published in a literary journal, but never read otherwise, in the form of a book. Unsaid is pleased to launch Unlost with two fictions by John Kehoe, which first appeared in The Quarterly, edited by Gordon Lish.



It was raining and everyone had gone home. In his line there was no work in the rain. The water beaded up and ran down the windows and he sat behind the desk in his office watching this track of humidities. There was a legal pad at his elbow. He took a pencil from the holder and moved the pad in front of him and after a moment carefully printed this word:


He looked at it and changed the period to a comma. Then, slowly at first, he wrote this:

-You I love, I love, I love. I love the feel of your skin and the smell of your breath, I love the shape of your hands and the line and fullness of your lips and the color of your eyes, I love, I love –

He stopped there and regarded what was in front of him. He did not know a woman named Annabelle and never had. His wife was named Christine. It was his conceit that the pencil seemed to be writing by itself and so he continued.

-I love your weight on top of me I love my weight on top of you I love the sound of you whispering and the sound of you talking, I love I love I love, I love, I love-

He put the pencil down. He picked it up again and signed his name. He folded the letter into thirds and put it into an envelope, and then put the envelope away. Then he stood, put on his coat, turned off the light and went home.

That night he ate a meal with his wife and children. She told him about a quarrel she’d had with a neighbor. His children were quiet and watchful. When he would look at them, they would look at each other and then away.

“How was school today?” he asked his son.

“I hate it,” his son said. “I hate going there and I hate being there and I hate everything about it.”

“Really,” he said. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” his son said.

A moment later he was extremely tired. With difficulty he stood and left the room. There seemed to be nothing under his feet and he had to lean against the wall as he climbed the stairs to the room he shared with his wife. He fell onto the bed and , still in his clothes, was quickly asleep.

He was aware of the legal pad for most of the day, but waited until the office had emptied before he centered it on his desk blotter. He took up the pencil and held it in his hand until it was nearly dark outside and nearly too dim for him to see.

He wrote.

-Annabelle, it is your breasts, your back, your throat, your legs, it is in our arch and collision, it is murmurs, hair, the pulse of a vein, it is of and beyond me, for I was born into it and do not know how to avail myself-

He stopped. He signed and folded this letter too and put it into an envelope and carefully placed it on top of the envelope of the day before, aligning edge and corner.

He stayed where he was for a length of time afterward. His intention was to take the letters with him when he left but it was much later when he understood he had not.




The dog (my dog) weighs 65 pounds. The cat (our cat) weighs 7 or 8 pounds. The refrigerator weighs 125 pounds or so. There’s a washing machine, it weighs 90 pounds. Maybe more. The dryer weighs 75 pounds, also maybe more. My lawyer weighs 190 pounds. The toaster weighs 1 pound. The lawn mower weighs 43 pounds. My wife weighs 130 pounds. Our bed weighs 100 pounds, mattress and box spring included. Our bed with my wife in it weighs 230 pounds. These are estimates, you understand. This pencil I’m using, it weighs next to nothing, I guess. The televisions weigh 40 pounds apiece; that’s 120 pounds. My daughter weighs 45 pounds. My wife’s doctor weighs 175 pounds. My father weighs 240 pounds. One of my brothers weighs 2,000 pounds. I myself have no weight at all, and am blown across lawns and yards by the slightest stir of breeze.

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A Disaster from The Start – An Interview with Russell Persson

Cabeza de Vaca

Russell Persson’s “The Way of Florida” appears in Unsaid 7. Persson is the 2014 recipient of Unsaid’s Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Award for Fiction in the Face of Adversity.

UNSAID: What role does research play in your treatment of what appear to be historical events? In what ways is research either a help or a hindrance?

RP: Research has provided the factual armature that my narrative is built on. Throwing clay on that armature and pushing it around and forming the contours that I find engaging or musical or surprising or terrifying is the real joy. I do end up at times going back to the facts to give a rough form to where the story is going, but I try not to get too deep into the research because if I feel like I am guiding or anticipating the story too strictly then I’ll lose that sense of play and abandon which is required for me to get at least that first draft down.

UNSAID: Your treatment of mapping and chronology, combined with your description of jungle landscape, create a strong sense of anxiety, the feeling that a creeping reality will invade and engulf all, unless the world is constantly rationalized. Is this feeling merely an effect within your story, or is it expressive of your own understanding of human experience?

RP: In the Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca, it’s a disaster from the start. The ships are blown by a storm, the navigator doesn’t know where they are, the competency of the commander Narvaez is questioned. After they reach land and decide to explore inland, they are walking through a place unknown, unmapped, populated by an unknown, possibly hostile people. When I was reading the Narrative, it made me anxious to imagine what it must have been like in those circumstances. I wanted to try to convey some of that anxiety, and to bring some of that anxiety to the idiom.

The sense of anxiety and that creeping reality you mention might also have to do with the process of writing. When I am writing well, I feel like I’m an actor playing the role of some overwhelmed scribe trying to keep up with the story. It’s a fugue state that is wonderful to be in and it produces its own kind of anxiety, but like any ideal state it’s not always easy to access. That creeping reality is daily life, just outside the gates, constantly reminding me that I need to go back to my job, pay the bills, mow the lawn. So that anxiety might have more to do with not so much my understanding of the human experience but instead my understanding of the experience of writing.

UNSAID: It was hard for me to read The Way of Florida without thinking of Orlando, the title of two literary landmarks, and also the home of one of the world’s great theme parks. For me, your story connotes a wide variety of texts, historical and contemporary, aesthetic and vulgar, heroic and absurd – all of which add to the richness of the experience of reading. To what extent did writing proceed and work with an awareness of your production arising within an intertextual field?

RP: I wonder sometimes if it’s possible to start over with a word. In the original Narrative, “the way of Florida” simply refers to a direction of travel. But a contemporary reader can find so many different meanings for the word Florida. We all seem to have an emotion or an opinion about Florida. When I decided on the title “The Way of Florida,” I loved how ambiguous and loaded it was, how it could be filled up and decorated before you read a line of the text. And at the same time, I loved how it might be possible to rebuild the word itself.

Maybe it’s not possible to start over with a word, but I like the idea of trying. Jack Gilbert resurrected the word heart for me, which I believed had been lost for good. So I think there is still the possibility to take words to which we have assigned almost inseparable meaning and to present them for reevaluation.

UNSAID: The sudden appearance of complex run-on sentences in your story catches the reader off guard, demanding great feats of cognition or respiration if the movement of the story is not to be interrupted. To what extent do you find writing and reading to be not pleasures so much as mental and physical ordeals?

RP: I feel those longer sentences are a natural product of the story, told at pace and rhythm and length at which certain passages should be told to reflect the subject. Writing those sentences is a pleasure and I hope that pleasure is felt by the reader as well. But I do understand that those wandering sentences require a form of attention that we’re not used to working with. So in that way I can understand that it might take some persuasion or some kind of instruction to get the reader to that place where that form of attention lives. These lines might serve to, indirectly, instruct the reader on what might be an appropriate form of attention to bring to the pages.

UNSAID: I’m fascinated by what I might call infixes or intrusions in the course of your narrative. I see these principally in the form of sudden expletives, conjectures, and proclamations. Each of these seems to figure as a moment of shock, a repetition of an unsaid trauma driving the underpinning of the narrative. Can you say anything about the origin or function of exclamation in your work?

RP: The first expletive came about as a way to speak to the muted nature of the original Narrative, in which almost all emotion is removed to make room for place names, directions, distances traveled, measurements of time, descriptions of the native people. In my retelling of the narrative, I wanted to inhabit more of the reactionary and the felt. But once I started using these expletives I realized they were assigning themselves a different role, like a crash that breaks into an expected rhythm of sounds. I often listen to music that has elements of dissonance, and I realized these expletives were like those notes you don’t expect to hear, notes whose function is to intentionally bend away from the expected note to give you something odd and unexpected. This can be unsettling, or shocking, but you’ll see that bend in the path and by following the path you might get to see or hear something differently than if the path was straight.

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I Wanted Something Sharp – An Interview With Kate Wyer

Kate Wyer’s Pushcart-nominated story, “Radio Ferry, Tern Mouth,” appears in Unsaid 7.


UNSAID: Your story has the sense of expectancy I associate with Beckett, yet you don’t seem to share his utter bleakness of vision. In place of Beckett’s terminal culture, you seem to substitute an interminable drive in nature. Have you passed through Beckett to something new or have you arrived at this place through other means?

KW: I have passed through Beckett. In one of my art classes, the teacher showed a video of Billie Whitelaw’s performance of Not I. The mouth and driving repetition stayed with me. Of all of his work, that play is the one I can point to as most influencing my writing. My story isn’t quite as bleak, but it is still bleak. The terns leave the two people for good, and that signals to the people no ferry will come, ever. The people are left to whatever there is after the waiting. Without the waiting, what will they do?

UNSAID: The radio is such a powerful imagine in modern literature, and your phrase “Our tuneless radio” seems to condense so much experience and sentiment, perhaps even nostalgia, into one discrete unit. Could you unpack that phrase for us a bit?

KW: I believe the phrase does have some nostalgia. For about five years I couldn’t listen to music on the radio. I could barely listen to music. I don’t know if that was entirely my frame of mind, or if it signaled something larger was happening—a general tunelessness. Even now I can take only so much music. Strangely, I started to make it a year and a half ago, well, make isn’t quite right. I started to learn how to make music and that means I have to listen to it first. I don’t participate in really hearing music though. I deconstruct it into patterns I can repeat. I think that at the core of this is a tunelessness I haven’t escaped. So, yes, I am nostalgic about how I once participated in listening.

UNSAID: I’m struck by your foregrounding of phonetics more than in previous work of yours, and by the image of the knife gate, a device for regulating flow. Do you find you have used this image to say something about the mechanics of the vocal apparatus?

KW: Knife gate was originally just the word sluice, but that word wasn’t entirely working. I went looking for another. I like that knife gate is jarring. It causes a moment of confusion, of slowing down. Sometimes I use sluice, sometimes I use knife gate. I was able to interchange the words and follow the sounds. When writing this story I knew that it was an unfamiliar word combination, and because it was unfamiliar it could seem like I made it up. Sluice, to my ear, creates more of a gradual, sliding closure. I wanted something sharp, I wanted knife. I wanting slamming a gate. I liked that I could interplay these phonetically and still keep the meaning the same. Spenser and the narrator want sound, but they don’t get it. Their words are restrained by waiting. The anticipation of sound is what moves this story forward. In this way, yes, the knife gate is silent and stagnant.

UNSAID: I’m also struck by the brevity of this piece, and the way it moves forward by way of repetition? To what extent does the simplicity of the visible text mask a complex writing process? Is the piece more the product of additive or subtractive composition? sedimentation, intrusion, or erosion? Or are you up to something different?

KW: I wrote this piece as an assignment in one of Peter Markus’s online workshops. The assignment was to analyze the poetry form sestina, and then write a story after choosing six words that will appear over and over in the piece. The sestina form was familiar to me, so instead of just analyzing the way it works (there are six words that repeat at the ends of very rigid stanza constructions), I went ahead and wrote a sestina first and then broke it apart. After I broke the story from stanzas, I added more story and more repetition. I’ve used the sestina as a way to generate new word combinations before, because the constraints force you to make things work and bring unexpected words together. If you read the story again, you will most likely be able to pick out my six root words. Ultimately, the constraints allowed me to build the waiting and the tension, because the story goes forward and then is forced back onto itself. To answer your question, it is built by addition and intrusion. And honestly, I was mostly up to having fun. I enjoy the challenge of constraints.

UNSAID: I know political engagement to be a central concern in your life, and yet this piece seems to be a detached subjective revery. Does such writing serve as a salutary and necessary respite from politics, or are there ways in which revery, lyricism or expression might relate more directly to outward action?

KW: This question took me by surprise! It gave me some insight into how I can be perceived—thank you for that. I wish that marching for climate justice didn’t have to be seen as a political action. I don’t see myself as involved in politics. The state of the planet causes me so much distress, so much anxiety, that to manage my anxiety, I control what I can control. To me, that means making deliberate choices and it means showing up at rallies to have fellowship with other people. I hope to be buoyed.

I don’t want to hit anyone over the head with a message. Even in Land Beast, where the narrator is a female rhino, I don’t ever come out and say poaching is wrong. That story happened after I woke up in the middle of the night with the image of the rhino’s chainsawed face. I didn’t set out to write an anti-poaching story. It wasn’t something that would have occurred to me to write.

I wanted her interior experience of external violence to be something with which people connected. However, I knew the story would not change a poacher’s mind. The most I could hope for would be to change a consumer’s mind, but that wasn’t on my mind at all when I was writing. There is that Kafka quote, I may not have it correctly, but I remember it as “I write so I can close my eyes.” I wrote that story to close my eyes to the horror. I know that if someone else wrote the story, it would upset me too much to read it. I would turn away. So, to answer your question, I do not actively analyze my process as being engaged in politics, or as a respite from political action. I write whatever comes. In a sense, all my writing is closing my eyes—be it to loss, or to violence, or to wanting.

UNSAID: Finally, I’m interested in your interest in life outside the economy of the human. Is there something in the thought or feel of action unencumbered by self-consciousness which informs or directs your writing?

KW: I put consciousness everywhere. In the rhino, in the terns, in sand crabs, and cows. For me, everything is encumbered with self. I throw my net of compassion wide and let it all in. I am driven to connect and process, and I try to do so without becoming overwhelmed.

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