Foreword to Made for You and Me (2024)

Foreword to Made for You and Me (1)
Foreword to Made for You and Me (2)
Foreword to Made for You and Me (3)

Foreword to Made for You and Me

Pithy conciseness, repose, and maturity—where you find these qualities in an author, cry halt and celebrate a great festival in the desert. It will be long before you have such a treat again.—Nietzsche, Wanderer and His Shadow 108

[American poetry has] forgotten the reader. . . . [T]here are a few really good poets who suffered because of the desiccation and involution of poetry, but for the most part I think American poetry has gotten what it’s deserved. . . . [I]t’ll come awake again when poets start speaking to people who have to pay the rent.—David Foster Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

Understand what lies before you. Although its mode of being—rhizomatic rather than arborescent—allows one to pierce its fructifying core in just a few skimming moments, the tour de force you are set to uncork gushes over the brim of mere diversion. It beckons to be a life read, not just some “summer read.” The ranging and yet penetrating scope of its stanzas, tirelessly exposing the amazing cradled in the mundane and the mundane cradled in the amazing, make Made for You and Me (MFYM)—to summarize in vain a goliath of nutriment in but a phrase—what the thorough index and pinched-crown trim of the hardcopy suggests: an anthological education manual, albeit sung in the Greek style (sagacious precepts and sensitive observations in verse accessible to the everyman). More than teaching what to think, it teaches how to think. And really, the deeper impact lies not in what you learn so much as in what you become. Neither underestimate nor undervalue MFYM’s attention demands. In a fragmented landscape where so many vacuous and for-profit forces bray for our attention, however, you could fare far worse than to be lured in by its murmurs.

MFYM—an unheard-of happening, and so rightly dubbed “a novel” in the literal sense of the term—is a curious figment of literature, even compared to Istvan’s other work. Many of Istvan’s published poems, although vibrant in emotion and expressive potency, reflect an “anti-poetic” effort to render everything coherent and clear, stripped of ambiguity—an anal straining, in effect, to purge the very elements that account for why freshman poems written by nonnative tongues often stir the professor’s envy. But even when he gives himself over to the Apollonian excess of intellectualizing his every move, even when he follows (into aesthetic fault) the understanding’s requisition for unblurry exactitude, it is clear that Istvan’s true gift lies in infinitesimal insights and detections. Across the growing volumes of MFYM, a Remembrance-of-Things-Past-length foraging record of nothing but such insights and detections, Istvan—although hopelessly a geometrically-minded plodder like Sir Roger Penrose—relaxes his Apollonian side a bit and attempts a more carefree approach (coming into his own, we might say, as the technopresent’s underclass reincarnation of Lichtenberg).

How carefree? Despite being well-crafted and intended for generations to cherish (and so by no means should be counted among the any-meaning-goes poetry of postmodern playfulness where only Dionysus finds place at the table), MFYM does not appear to wrangle its insights and detections toward some overarching point. More precisely, and in keeping with its opening quotation, MFYM does not appear to wrangle its insights and detections toward some overarching point more specific than answering Ferlinghetti’s call: “and I am waiting / for a rebirth of wonder / and I am waiting for someone / to really discover [this place].”

As Istvan’s substitution of “this place” for Ferlinghetti’s word “America” indicates, and as a cursory glance through MFYM’s contents substantiates, such an overarching point is more nebulous than one might think at first blush. Yes, MFYM is undoubtedly American-centric. And yes, Istvan—standing, like Horace, above his era to satirize its corruptions—frequently trains his critical sights squarely upon the contemporary United States. Take, for instance, the litany of stanzas concerning “a land”—a land that, although unnamed and applicable at times to the Earth as a whole, is pretty much always best read as the eagle nation.

a land with a culture, summarized in its hotdog, easy to chew but poisonous

a land where if the bombing is done by the state it is not terrorism

a land of no tolerance for nuance

a land of sloth, boredom, superstition, poverty, toxins, disasters, (scientific) illiteracy

a land of histrionics driven to stand out as deep-radical-special-bullied-fearless

a land of underdog-individualism where marginality, where fighting the man, is hip

a land of anti-intellectuals craving cheap-lazy ways to goals: fad-diets, get-rich quick

a land of philistines in frantic struggle against their heart’s murmur: no grand point

a land of equality where all thoughts are worthy and laymen scoff at Einstein

a land of such resent for genius that anyone can be a genius in anything overnight

a land of interneters trying to make sense of an indifferent chaosmos where lives end

a land of citizens made insular and unwise by stories of how it is blessed exceptional

a land of citizens so mollycoddled that they need puppies to pet if discomforted

a land of pc-reactivism as well as quack-science and dunderheaded conspiracies

a land where being authentic is just being another persona

a land of the brave but where the people are the most cowardly

a land where victimization is a sacred mark of one’s individuality

a land where “unidentified” means “extraterrestrial”

a land where patients and students have been transformed into consumers

a land of preventing children from masturbating

a land where every opponent is displeasing to God

a land where exuding masculinity is itself abusive

a land of those who strive not to be the most excellent but to be the most damaged

a land where not being always in line with some party is read as being inconsistent

a land where the most curious creatures are “educated” in what seems prisons

a land where decrease in unemployment is because people are giving up

a land of opiated safe spaces for (beings verging on becoming) Nietzsche’s “last men”

a land where following the advice of science is a matter of what party you belong to

a land where, for the main political parties, media personalities overrule scientists

a land where accusation, however heinous, sticks easy to the nuanced: today’s blacks

a land where you are serious as an artist only if you make money from your art

a land where everything becomes a fixed identity, a medicalized condition: gay, schizo

a land where a panel is one-hundred percent diversity only if there are no whites

a land where professors get title-nined for insisting that sexual favors will not fly

a land where being honest about what is obviously true requires the deepest courage

a land of suspicion for any speech thorough and rigorous

a land where “privileged” and “winner” are pejoratives

a land of sly digs at the educated (sometimes even by news anchors)

a land where it is good business for us to be sick

a land where the more mainstream monotheism the less rights for the marginal

a land where that she was raped is seen as evidence of her being a slu*t

a land where that he was shot is seen as evidence that he was violent

a land where ruffling the hair of a stranger’s child at the playground is offensive

a land so against learning that learning from an other is shamed as “appropriation”

a land of censoring scientists from the right and comedians from the left

a land of frequent “It was just like a movie”

a land where we feel ourselves to be up here, only in our heads

a land where you can lose a job for giving a compliment

a land where presidents cannot be leaders, only managers

a land where terrorism is the big worry even as thousands die from truant healthcare

a land where food without the extra killer chemicals on it is more expensive

a land where people are mere vending machines

a land where “free range” means the chicken has at least (and usually just) one window

a land of sincere—not contrarian, not rage-quitting—belief in palmistry and ghosts

a land of sincere—not contrarian, not rage-quitting—belief in zodiac predispositions

a land of sincere—not contrarian, not rage-quitting—consultation of tea leaves

a land of sincere—not contrarian, not rage-quitting—consultation of Ouija boards

a land where past oppression of your ancestors excuses your own supremacist ethos

a land where we must say “seggs,” “cornhub,” and “ninja,” but can see headshot kills

a land where the nursey rhyme now goes: “Bah bah King sheep, have you any wool?”

a land where those of “white optics” must begin utterances with preemptive apology

a land where a dog is a trans female if it neither lifts its pee leg nor shows territoriality

a land where you fear losing your livelihood for saying what you think

a land of kids pissed to stumble upon real hunks of strawberry in the jam

a land where spell checkers flag “black humor” and “picnic” for “inclusivity reasons”

a land so lost even psychics we turn to (for surgery) unhesitatingly trust their powers

a land prioritizing the fake bogeyman of white supremacy over homeless servicemen

a land where colleges dismiss statistics unpalatable to “vulnerable populations”

a land of anti-cosmopolitan talk of “white algebra”

a land where therapists cannot touch you

a land where even the few writing their own speeches simply channel weekly pollsters

a land where the football coach teaches chemistry (and now, afrochemistry)

a land of twenty times more astrologers than astronomers

a land of heterodoxy killed not by a tyrant but by the pinheaded ridicule of our sisters

a land where it is “self-love” to cancel all pushback to how you think and live

a land of peanut-edgy moms too hovering to let kids get shoved into antifragility

a land where we always look for hacks around the difficulty of self-discipline

a land where we overcorrect for years of fat shaming by calling morbid obesity healthy

a land of deplatforming speakers who might shake student beliefs

a land where poetry is too uninstrumental for our tastes to be a decisive form of truth

a land raging when a white man is CEO of Taco Bell but rejoicing when a black man is

a land where this cannot be the answer since we cannot cope if it were

a land where the more we want it to be true the less careful and scrupulous we are

a land debating whether the pear resembles the pop star due to the hand of God or ET

a land where people equate defending a view from criticism as endorsing that view

a land where actual presidents have consulted psychics—yes, in key state decisions

a land where eyeballs count more than truth

a land where people we love cannot be wrong and where people we hate must be

a land where you are an anti-x nutjob just for daring to raise that side’s taboo question

a land where people equate denial of alien visitation as denial of aliens altogether

a land where the question is if we like the conclusion, not if it is adequately supported

a land where crop-circle TV leaves no room for TV scientifically probing real mysteries

a land where we say what we think only around people friendly to our views

a land where, failing to esteem detractors, we lose touch with truth and do not grow

a land where disagreement is a betrayal or a trauma instead of a gift

a land where we open with “speaking as an x person” as a form of emotional blackmail

a land where an attack on the view or art is an attack on the identity or artist

a land we should have anticipated once comedians refused to do standup on campus

a land where white men need to apologize merely for their perspective

a land of sex negatives in denial that they are animals who will be eaten like animals

a land where politics pulls everything in, even viral threats and choice in clothing

a land where whites applaud their own decline in numbers and birthrate

a land of whites ashamed of belonging to the greatest culture the world has yet to see

a land where the best argumentative strategy is the heckler’s veto of the smelly mob

a land where we reject his view simply because he belongs to the other side

a land lot of common-enemy, not common-humanity, identity politics

a land where our climbing self-censorship will be noted in history books

a land where campuses inviting a speaker means a campus endorsing a speaker

a land of shouting down instead of learning why they think their “diseased” way

a land of sensitivity where quirks are tiptoed around like fragile artifacts

a land of delicate and neutral descriptors—none of this color purple (from whites)

a land of white guilt must be fed: HR jumping in if the prof’s shirt color is upsetting

a land of no non-professional relationships, not even tea chats, with a co-worker

a land where a text says what we want it to—explicitly because we have that want

a land where we project whatever makes us feel good on metaphysical mysteries

a land that moved from where men are inferior to women are superior

a land that moved from black is inferior to black is superior

a land of academic standards almost as despicably low as intellectual competence

a land of cultural sanctions against skepticism and debate—even in universities

a land where someone who rubs you the wrong way must be wrong, toxic

a land of rabbit feet for good luck and yet mockery of midget kisses for the same

a land of pig and cow but not dog and horse

a land of credulity for bleeding statues and yet skepticism for vaccines

a land of going to psychics to avoid the stigma of going to a therapist

a land where highest glory goes to being a victim and a snitch

a land leaking its nonsense out everywhere

And yes, the title “Made for You and Me” is taken from one of the most treasured hymns to the American spirit (Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”), which Istvan heard live in classrooms as a child from none other than the beloved folk musician who lived on the same Mount Beacon where he grew up: Pete Seeger. And yes, it is undeniable that MFYM fits best into the American didactic tradition of Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman—except, crucially, that the “nation” it now instructs is no longer new and promising, but rather decadent and crumbling: its many twenty-year-old Philadelphians in the back-bent pose of fentanyl now a symbol more fitting than the bald eagle.

Despite these facts, however, the “this place” that MFYM aims to unveil is not simply America and its colonial purlieus. Nor is it simply Earth, including its inhabitants and their inner lives. MFYM’s focus reaches beyond the observable universe of empirical investigation and even beyond the private realms of first-person psychology. It reaches into the hinterlands of metaphysics, emphasizing the in-some-sense-dignified finitude of all beings: ants, rocks, stars. “This place” means the cosmos at large or, more accurately, reality itself—reality itself construed in the broadest sense and so, in line with MFYM’s insight that “the surface of the pond is real too,” encompassing even what philosophers have often distinguished from it: the so-called “phenomenal world,” the “realm of Maya.” “This place”—reality in its totality, a totality richer than even the mereological sum of everything—is, as the subtitle for MFYM’s inaugural collection names it, the “hive Being.”

That all of reality is a hive Being—or, as termed in the subtitle for the subsequent five-year sequence, “The Ribbon and Its Folds”—Istvan means literally. We all are familiar with the notion of a hive mind, used as it is so often as a plot device in science fiction (think: the Formics in Ender’s Game). Similar to a hive mind (where local centers of consciousness are linked to one global consciousness, or where one universal mind is instantiated in various particular minds), Istvan sees each being as but a manner of being of, and so a focal point through which is disclosed, what classical theists call “God” or “being itself” (ipsum esse subsistens): the realness of the real, the being of whatever may be, the sheer activity of being, that in virtue of which beings are, real things considered merely as real, the very isness of whatever is. According to such a view where reality is one lone superorganism, a monistic—and we might even say unividualist—conception that Istvan defends with rigorous refinement at the end of the first volume (as well as in academic articles informed by his doctoral dissertation on Spinoza), each non-foundational being—including, yes, “you and me”—is an utterly necessitated expression or eruption or exudation or (perhaps best) mode of its self-necessitated source: being itself—God. The hive-Being view, in effect, marks a shift back to thinking in terms of us, in terms of an I-and-thou style that long ago gave way—as our group sizes expanded (ultimately to megacities)—to an I-and-it style.

In MFYM, then, we find a resurgence of structuralism and its project to reduce our identities down to some prior reality understood to be forming who we are. But instead of reducing our identities down to economic forces, unconscious drives, genes, family history, or so on in the all-too-narrow manner of twentieth-century structuralism, which had the problem of constraining us too much (and, as the poststructuralists never let us forget, in the service of social conformity), Istvan's structuralism reduces our identities to the all-perfect self-necessary fount of all reality (being itself), which—as the most non-narrow non-specific reality (a reality harboring all possibilities)—avoids these pitfalls. We might call this structuralism, therefore, “ur-structuralism” or “deep structuralism” or “metaphysical structuralism.” Indeed, since it is friendly to poststructuralism in avoiding these problems (albeit without abandoning the project of pointing out the underlying essence to which all identities are a function), we might even call it “poststructuralist structuralism.” To give the most salient example of how Istvan’s structuralism advances poststructuralism rather than being a retrograde movement, notice that it does not simply suggest (à la Foucault) that we can experiment with alternative ways of being so as to nudge the look of history’s unfolding and the standard identities on offer. It provides, in addition, tremendous oomph for developing alternative ways of being, for bringing out different aspects of one’s personality, in the first place. For since we never fail to be focal points through which God is disclosed, in developing alternative ways of being for ourselves we shape the very look of God—a much more compelling picture of who we are and who we might be and what profound impact we wield!

In addition to providing a potent impetus for experimental growth, the hive-Being ontology—where even the most divergent phenomena are facets of the same ultimate reality—provides a potent impetus for entering those Jesus-Buddha states, tasted fleetingly in peak experiences (like MDMA trips), where self-concern drops away, and where we behold the other without concern with how we appear, and where we feel unconditional love, sympathetic compassion, catholic care, not only for familiars with whom we have shared history and futures as well as something to gain, but also for complete strangers: no hint of envy at their successes, no schadenfreude at their failures—only non-transactional desire for them to achieve their highest possibilities, coupled with appreciation of their attributes (even those we could never possess). None of this should be unfamiliar. We taste this peak experience of self-effacement watching our cherished team in the big game or watching a draft pick. Think about it. Are we envious when our team—“we,” as we say—triumphs or when our team drafts a physical specimen that makes us look like jokes? Envy does not rear its head here because we identify with the team, using the royal “we”: “we lost the game,” “we just made a good trade.”

Let us circle more or less closer to the point. We can do so by appreciating the many ways in which the hive-Being view presses us.

Positing that we share a kinship with the most encompassing team beyond which nothing else could ever be (the soil not only from which we grow but also of which we are nothing but in truth)—the hive-Being view presses us to feel the tranquility of a cosmic significance as well as to see the happiness, along too with the talents and “evils,” of all beings as in some sense our own.

Positing that we are not just extrinsic effects of God (leaning on God) but immanent modes of God (literally shaping the look of God in our thoughts and deeds, literally advancing God in our own advancements)—the hive-Being view presses us to see that our individuality does not come at the expense of isolation and that our merger with the cosmos does not efface our personal power, our local vitality, our standing on our own two feet, our small-scale self-enhancement; it is a view that presses us, in effect, to feel that we can meaningfully expand as heroes in the grand unfolding of the deepest power (God) with which we are so one that no being, no matter how alien, fails to be our metaphysical kin.

Positing that our inner lives and unique talents and desires to be heroic are themselves expressions of creation’s self-necessitated source (such that nothing about us, qua modes at least, is ultimately native to us, self-generated by us)—the hive-Being view presses us to accept and even celebrate whatever happens and to see our value (our very being) fundamentally merged with the heart of reality, transcending ourselves, our families, our societies: a fact that not only entitles us to feel dignified no matter whom we fail to please, but that gives us metaphysical comfort even in the face of sustained and undistracted cognizance of our bound-for-obliteration puniness in the dramatic unfolding of which we never asked to be a part.

Positing that we are immortal insofar as we are the never-not being itself (which we are in the sense that nothing about us is ultimately made up of any extra ingredient aside from being itself) and immortal even insofar as we are mere modes of being itself (well, at least in the sense that (1) these modes were always, and forever will be, potential shapes of being itself and (2) the effects of these modes ripple out continuously)—the hive-Being view presses us to let go of our dread about death, as no hope for local immortality (for example, loved by our children or by anonymous humans for a few centuries or so on) ever could.

Reasoned out as it is, backed by careful thinking, the hive-Being view is especially effective at reaching even the hyper-cerebral: those who cannot relax their existential sphincter, who cannot surrender themselves to the self-forgetting routines that block out the awareness of our being born for who knows what reason only to suffer and die only with our entire species; those who, ever at risk of lunacy, cannot allow themselves to take the leap of faith into the purpose-giving fantasies of our sky-father religions (however much security and courage, freedom from anxiety and guilt, it promises). The hive-Being view sets one in a bigger-than-oneself drama that promotes a feeling of security, and lends a meaning to life and death, without the cost of sacrificing intellectual integrity and awareness as to the terror of our having been thrown into a vulnerable life aware of our mortality.

Still, are readers able to grasp, merely through examining MFYM, that being itself—God—is meant by “this place”? Poems in a typical collection are like couples in a typical arranged marriage: no love, at least at first, to bind them. You would expect the same from the stanzas of MFYM. But soon through the on and on, the main ground of binding is brought to light. Through its range of topics, its openness to the most concrete and to the most abstract, we learn what the main ground of binding is. We learn as surely as we learn that red is the “answer” to what is in common when someone places before you the stop sign, the fire hydrant, the apple, the rose, the red sportscar, the CVS logo, and so on. The main ground is being itself.

Intended to celebrate being itself (and thereby not enslaved to the task of putting all observations in axe-to-grind service of some more specific point), MFYM avoids the typical dangers of a large work. Large works tyrannize the author’s (and the reader’s) power, targeting it for a sustained period of time to one special place and thereby putting the author’s powers to target other areas at risk of atrophy. Goethe warned us about this. A grand expenditure of mental force that could be put to use in so many other places, such as in reporting the fresh details and contemplations of each new day, gets sucked down the gravity well: strategizing structure, making everything cohere, filtering out the content that does not belong, trying to decide what the main character’s favorite color is—and all with discomforting anxiety since he is putting all his money on this one venture that could fail merely if he botches some small detail. Especially in cases where it takes decades to complete, a large work can leave the author shriveled and doddering at the end so much shrapnel having been taken to the head). MFYM avoids these dangers, despite being the largest of large works, because it lets the caprices of the present take it where it may. Few axes being ground for periods too sustained, fresh ideas are able to be plucked before they wither away like morning mushrooms.

How carefree is MFYM, then? Scattered cases of rigorous argumentation aside, Cosmic-Whitman carefree—sometimes, at least when taken up with the right attitude, even as carefree as the free-form jazz album Machine Gun by The Peter Brotzmann Octet. By not imposing any obvious narrative or moral line upon the complex succession of details constituting our actual experience (a fact that becomes less and less true as time goes on, as the reader experiences how cancel culture has affected Istvan), MFYM allows the details of reality itself—of the one absolute hive Being—to stand forth in stardom. Metaphysician though he is (enamored of the universal and fundamental and enduring), Istvan does not divert attention away from the lilliputian aspects of the local and homey and ephemeral. He does not worry about dating himself and putting himself at risk of seeming low-brow banal by referencing pop songs and films instead of certain species of trees and birds—things evanescent themselves, anyways (at least from a more panoptic perspective). Although it should be said that somehow—perhaps we might say that he crochet-hooks their innermost fibers and then retreats with them in tow to a distance against which the horizon becomes sublime in its immensity—Istvan always seems to hint at something deep and lasting even in the niche fads and minutia of the technopresent, transforming into the waterfalls and lakes and stars of the romantic poets from centuries past even the sitcoms (The Simpsons), the gadgets (Thigh Master), the apps (TikTok), the products (Mountain Dew), the phrases (“slide into her DMs”), the beauty trends (caterpillar eyebrows), the ideological trends (treating nonwhites as cargo so precious they deserve to be sheltered even from mere words even in university classrooms), the big-money trends (treating nonwhites as cargo so precious they deserve to be sheltered even from mere words even in university classrooms), and so on that constitute the ready-to-hand landscape, the familiar mental furniture, of recent generations.

Veering from Istvan’s typical striving to spell everything out in such a way as to preclude various interpretations (which is perhaps to be expected from a philosopher by trade), MFYM—compressed, incomplete, taciturn—simply lays out keen perceptions one after the other and makes the reader devote the sort of effort required for adequate stimulation. Like a dog owner who hides treats in places requiring some problem-solving to reach, Istvan thereby supercharges MFYM’s already-intense power to shape the internal lenses by which we understand the world. Bordering on mere lists of words that imaginative and engaged readers will find suggestive, Istvan’s sphincter here has relaxed a bit—welcoming the Dionysian: graveness giving way to gaiety, intoxication, and even a modicum of murkiness. The fractured quality that results, a blend of the technical and the lyrical (reminiscent of Kristeva), reflects a diverse reality (as involuted as his prose) often resistant to being rendered in words. MFYM, in effect, integrates the right hemisphere of Dionysus with the left hemisphere of Apollo, breaking ground by giving both their balanced place (unlike the more typical integrations that tilt more one way than the other).

Crammed with the learning of many minds (as if its author believed that imagining and recording and assimilating as much as possible were crucial to some desperately craved goal of self-discovery), MFYM—which seems as much a producer of Istvan’s enlightenment as it is the product—concerns itself with an impressive range of spheres (contesting and transgressing their boundaries and styles): religion, geology, history, marketing, philosophy, art, sociology, psychology, and so on. MFYM moves easily, for example, from toilet humor to theoretical physics.

over-shoulder glances, sly both ways,
before obliging the tween demon
who cackles “f*ck me” on her bed

standards of foulness lowered
before sniffing the only pants
that go with the blouse

flies in outdoor p*rn

lips too fat for the thong

the drowsy dog
raises an ear of alertness
at the sound of his own fart

it sucks when you have been clean
so long, but your side personality
gets smashed any chance it gets

social-security benefits in near reach,
but still playing I’ll-show-you-mine
with little girls in the neighborhood

since some particles seem to appear and to disappear from and into nothing, space
seems quantum-frothy rather than Einstein-smooth—but still: a panoptic smoothness
is tacit in the rule that the more the appearing particle’s energy the faster it disappears

Although it seems wrong to apply a label that connotes superficiality and lack of fastidiousness (when, in truth, anything from Istvan is going to be—sometimes to a fault—the very opposite), MFYM is “avant-garde” at least in one sense. Aiming to go beyond philosophy by means of philosophy and beyond poetry by means of poetry, MFYM operates at the intersection of philosophy and poetry—to the effect, some critics might say, that the philosophy injures the poetry and the poetry injures the philosophy. More obviously the result of finding words for thoughts than thoughts for words, sounds for concepts than concepts for sounds, it does perhaps lean more to the side of philosophy. But while ideas might matter more than melody here, while the desire to instruct might even trump the desire to entertain, shining through is still the music, the condensation, the open-endedness, the diary-made-public-ness characteristic of poetry. Tentativeness to say more on the matter—that seems best. But look at it this way. Never does nature appear lower than ideas in MFYM, as we might worry would happen anytime one welcomes philosophy into poetry. Not only do ideas themselves count as nature (in which case no prioritization of ideas could ever amount to a putdown of nature), but even the most contemplative hypotheticals are balanced by naïve images throughout MFYM.

With an unsettling energy proving, contrary to received wisdom, that every note in a musical piece can be passionate and still sound good in the whole, MFYM dolphin dances—surface to depth to surface to depth—down each page to the next. The conglomeration of honest stanzas, each of which has its own individuated force (often of menace and humor in equal measure), form a Cubistic whole reflecting the fragmented nature of human lived experience without ever deserting the firm—although not necessarily empirical—ground of reality. Menace and humor together in one (precisely what had Kafka cackling to the alarm of neighbors as he wrote) summarize much of MFYM as well as much of the truth-seeking Istvan himself: creative (that is, at once smart, unconventional) and persistent in his craft; low in agreeableness while high in conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, and neuroticism. The various author bios floating through cyberspace make this more than clear.

M. A. Istvan Jr., whose creative writing has appeared in over 150 magazines and journals (including Quiddity, Pleiades, Hobart, and the African American Review), serves as a sensitivity reader for narratives that feature marginalized characters (in particular: black, queer, religious, autistic, addicted). On a red-pen mission to flag all texts that offend or stereotype or in any way reinforce oppression, Istvan is equipped to spot even the most figurative and oblique cases of, say, transphobia and black-body rape. Consider, for instance, the following problematic passage (which allusively contains both): “Heads and tails are discrete outcomes of coin flips even though it is possible that a coin will land on its edge or that it will be obliterated in the heinous dark of vacuum death.” Istvan, an editor eager to roll up his sleeves, is also equipped to strip texts of their most insidious threats—unwhiten them, so to say. Consider, for instance, how he rewrites—de[pr]i[v]i[leges]—the coin-flip passage: “As cases of intersex individuals show, sex—not just gender—is a spectrum, which is why the ovary-testicl* standard is bogus. And speaking of things ‘inter,’ an interracial child must understand that the fundamental bond between his white mother and his black father is exploitation: the mother—she is the heinous vacuum, leeching the father’s energy to fulfill her supremacist agenda.”

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr. was raised in Beacon NY in the 80s and 90s where, in addition to the overarching soft bigotry of lowered expectations, a decades-deep tide of negative stereotypes about his family normalized children with his last name being placed in special education by default (only to graduate into special targets for law enforcement barely after double digits). Istvan was one of the few in his family to break the mold: learning to read, securing a place to bathe that was neither a creek nor a neighbor’s hose, and earning multiple graduate degrees (including a PhD in Philosophy). Unfortunately, victim culture bloomed into full-blown cancel culture just as Istvan—already a transgressive artist, a professor whose lectures expose students to difficult moral questions, and a colleague unable to internalize middle-class manners—was, in spite of these liabilities, hitting his stride in academia. Diverse even beneath the surface (rather than some Oreo conformist token of marginality), it took little time before his presence—his section-eight talk and his underclass gait coupled (hazardously) with both an appreciation for nuance and a refusal to truckle to the dominant ideology of anti-intellectual outrage—“offended” and “traumatized” enough intent-disregarding woke whites, with their imperious scarves, that he was barred from his career (and from most other honorable sources of livelihood).

* * *

In lieu of a traditional author bio, M. A. Istvan Jr. (spleet / splerg / splert / splergself—seriously, not transphobically) would like to offer a prayer to the masturbation gods. Pray we never learn of the black-mono-culture-shattering likes of Esperanza Spalding and Rhiannon Giddens. Pray we never learn that deserving of Grammys are non-empty-plastic, non-bling-gaudy, non-superficial-decadent, non-self-indulgent, non-reality-TV, non-Mammon-worshipping—in short, non-Trump—musicians of black-female persuasion who train in conservatories, apprentice under masters, and suffer hours at their craft (instead of baby-oil twerking drunk at Panem-Capitol parties of such poverty-mocking extravagance that perhaps soon they will feature bound-and-gagged homeless families, not just blunts and spliffs, being set ablaze with hundred-dollar bills). Pray we never learn that worthy of Time Magazine covers are black women in the music industry who even refuse, despite incentives of shiny objects and popularity (the only things that really matter in our utopia), to enliven the white fantasy at the very heart of our national culture: that black bodies—close as they cannot help but remain to the savage jungle—hanker to be choke-handled, spit upon, and have all their holes beaten up to the point of prolapse with such no-means-yes brutality—only by colossal co*cks with Trump money, of course (these “whor*s in the house” do have standards!)—that even police, despite how trigger-nervous they tend to get around safari disturbances, might have to get called.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr. has no daughter but nonetheless aspires to become a card-carrying member of DADD, Dads Against Daughters Dating: an extracurricular organization at Holy Covenant Chapel, the local church that has kept him afloat for nearly two years of barehanded eating right over the sterno-flamed buffet pans. It was here, only a few months ago, that Istvan experienced his teary awakening from spiritual death—a crumbling conversion, which devolved into a b-boy-like ruckus of maneuvers resembling both the Worm and the Third Rail, powerful enough for the pastor to brave the man’s civet scent bubble (and its signature swamp-ass sillage) with a hard hug of homecoming into Christ’s cosmic bosom.

Istvan has become an HCC staple in the cloth. He haunts the monthly purity balls hosted by DADD, just as he did from the beginning: a halitotic testament, from the sort of man who would give holy water a taste test, to the fact that the most rigid of rules can be bent (if not altogether broken). But now, in his newfound grace, he attends these rec-room events of slow dancing white people in LL-Cool-J-lip-licking capacity as budding photographer, dumpster-dive camera ever at the ready. If only ultimately for his own private indulgence (indulgence, although all-too-public in the obsessive glint of his shameless eyes, somehow tolerated—yes, even by the TRT dads with gynecomastic violence simmering behind grit teeth—as if he were just some zoo monkey eating his own defecation in front of the second-grade class),

Istvan carries out his newfound mission with a discipline that would mean multiple homes and yearly vacations if directed toward business. As he himself articulated one amphetamine dawn to his evangelized-worn encampment buddy (neither intellectual nor selfless enough to appreciate the lucidity), that mission is humble but divine: it is to immortalize memories of all the tweens pledging chastity (“a precious thing”) while in the arms of both their earthly owners and, of course, their celestial owner: “the owner of us all, my nigg*!”

Understandably oblivious to the grooming impacts of his documentarian style (a gonzo approach of such self-indulgent immersion, so often placing him and his pleasure at the eye of the Freudian hurricane, that they—the girls—sometimes photograph him with his own camera), Istvan finds these young teases quite eager—hot-and-bothered Gawk 9000s under the cover of blush, riled no doubt more by the taboo fanatically imposed upon their adolescent urges than by the “Aqualung” rock he lets them listen to in his Goodwill headphones. He finds them quite eager, putting it bluntly, to entertain middle-way solutions between honoring their daddy pledge and honoring their daddy desire: storage-closet kissing, erotic-roleplaying, clothed frottage, nipple-teasing, heavy-petting, cunniling*s, anilingus, intercrural climax, hand-and-foot-and-mouth jobs, breast-banging (not usually applicable now that rBST milk has been off the radar), non-penetrative coital alignment, and so forth. Such Trump-level loopholes to the Lord’s law more often than not culminate in a good anal pounding—yes, despite (and in most cases only further fueled by) good-girl protestations at the onset as well as increased risk of tears (as in eye-liquid), tears (as in rips), infections, STDs, and early-onset hemorrhoids. Even the youngest of these pledges, Istvan has noticed (signature beard and hoodie greased with all the lamb and suckling pig provided by the HCC flock), are much quicker at least to go the tug-job route, which given their baby hands at least cannot hurt the growing epidemic of male insecurity.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD worked as a janitor at his high school during high school. Interventions from scarved liberal whites with gluten allergies sent him on a trajectory that, despite failed attempts to snuff out his pimp-drag step and his New York Ebonics, culminated in his earning a PhD. But with the bleak academic job-market, together with a family too ravaged by illiteracy and homelessness to provide any sort of safety net, it looks like he might come full circle. There are signs that he is well on his way. While he has not yet gone back to McDonald’s dumpsters, he steals whatever he can from supermarkets and more and more of his daily calories are coming from sugar packets and those mini jelly trays.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD, is an enterprising animal dealer (and, “for now,” parttime PetSmart stocker) based out of Austin, TX. The fiery man, his weather-beaten look heightened in contrast to the good-teeth youth bustling around him in the same company-logoed navy polo, has “spearheaded a campaign” to reimagine the zoo experience. The groundbreaking idea, which he has been trying in vain to present to J. K. Symancyk (president and chief executive officer of the superstore chain)—what could it be when this is a man, a zoological outsider, who wrote a thousand-page dissertation on Gadamer’s notion of play? It boils down simply to displaying zoo creatures in bizarrely unnatural settings that, so Istvan puts it, “bring what’s most important into relief—dramatic relief.”

“We go to zoos to see animals,” Istvan proclaims with flamboyant bluster (as if an old-world barnstormer in aviator goggles and scarf). “The problem is, when placed in replicas of their natural habitats (these,” he scoffs, “pseudo-savannas and whatnot), animals tend to fade into the background—the hom*ogenous plenum, if you will.” Ever ready to lean upon his graduate studies from over twenty years prior, Istvan—despite a preemptive apology for getting “technical”—makes his point in cryptic fashion (and one gets the sense that he struggles each moment to hold such material back). “We need to create a Heideggerian clearing: a space conducive to aletheia, a space in which the animal can stand forth out of the river of Lethe.”

Istvan’s frustration becomes visible when such lines do not draw out visible awe and emotion from those around him, the eureka recognition he feels they deserve. It becomes visible through the redness of his face and the pit stains of his polo, through his slip into a slang and tonality of almost another personality. “How the f*ck they gonna compete with Dippin’ Dots, with gifts shops, when I ain’t even know where a mahf*cka’s at!? That’s what the f*ck I’m sayin’! But mark my words.” He gathers himself, nearly back to baseline personality. “The days of children—squinting, crying—wondering where the lion is, those days are numbered.”

Istvan dubs his innovative notion “the defibrillator shock-paddle approach,” which he calls simply “the DSPA” (never unpacking the initialism unless someone inquires). The DSPA, he believes, will revitalize a flagging zoo industry whose “dwindling patron numbers over the last decade has meant dwindling resources for animal conservation.” “At the end of the day, I’m defending the animals,” he stresses (visibly self-conscious about all the sweat). “It’s really about them: our furred and feathered brethren”—a message Istvan demands be “fully conveyed in proper context,” threatening to “walk out this bitch real quick” otherwise.

The man’s passion is palpable, bordering on unsafe. “I don’t mean to lose my cool,” he says (reining in the intensity of his chronic hand gestures and, finally, hanging the red KONG chew toy—its cardboard backing crumpled and damp—on the display hook, sensing—as clear by the uptick in side glances—that the patience of his floor supervisor has run thin). “It just needs to be clear that I’m no defender of the technological worldview where animals, like everything else, are no more than stock to be used for our ends.” Istvan grabs another KONG from the shipment box on the dolly. “I stand with Heidegger on that!”

With a blend of wit and wild ideas (over seasoned with David-Foster-Wallace-level paranoia about being misunderstood and mischaracterized), Istvan no doubt has set the stage for a zoo experience as unforgettable as it is unconventional. “I do not call for a return of the bear back to the cramped cage of some Victorian menagerie,” so he insists against all the “unempathetic detractors” terrorizing his fantasies. “I envision, for example, walruses”—he shouts as if outdoors (as if, and it truly is hard not to imagine Miyazaki’s pigheaded Porco Rosso, years of open-co*ckpit flight in a prop plane has rendered him hard of hearing). His maniacal glint and perfume of pipe tobacco are as pungent as his ploy. “I envision them lined up in replicas of office mailrooms: minimal adornment on the animal itself—perhaps only a bowtie in the case of the walrus, or a monocle on the bear in the golf cart.”

The mad doctor has certainly delivered an unforgettable pitch. Whether his brazen bestiary will find any backers, however—well, that remains to be seen.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD. is a zodiac surgeon and respected board member of the National Council for Geocosmic Research. Whereas most other zodiac surgeons are equipped to shift your sign only one position forward, Istvan can shift your sign either one position forward or—barring the unlikely circ*mstance that you are a menopausal Pisces with a quadruped gait—even one position back. Istvan hopes that increased awareness about zodiac surgery will help bring in the funding required for researching zodiac sign transplantation, which ideally will allow a shift to any of the twelve signs in a matter of hours (as opposed to the years it takes currently to shift just one spot). As Istvan recently revealed in an interview with Shadow Transits, he envisions a future where there will be a zodiac donor box on driver’s licenses.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., despite a down-to-earth deportment that covers well both his advanced education and artistic output, finds it a struggle not to isolate due to how his Asperger’s syndrome manifests itself: stumbling verbosity, extreme attention to detail, and hypersensitivity, mainly. Such symptoms, coupled with his underclass roots (which cannot help but radiate an unwelcome odor in higher society), have understandably led to discrimination (especially in academic settings where, now, the chief duty of a professor is never to make anyone uncomfortable). The sudden transitions that mark his writing and speech, however, make for interesting poetry. His obsessive focus, moreover, allows him to probe and develop abstract concepts. His sensitivity, which he would never wish away (however much turmoil it red-carpets into his life), opens him to art-worthy phenomena that remain concealed for the neurotypical. And while search committees inevitably cut him from the shortlist after in-person interviews (where from his mannerisms they register a vague sense that he grew up in a creek-bathing place of constant cortisol where having his last name meant being placed in special education by default and being a special target for law enforcement before double digits, where he threw rocks at crack whor*s at ten), he now gets off—twisted as it is to say, but we all have to make do—on seeing the scarved interviewers, self-identified as “progressive,” squirm as they try to cover themselves from his gaze.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., fat-positive founder and editor of Safe Space Press, is a hunk of jade who has been abraded (but into an arrowhead) by the circumambient assaults on academic and artistic freedom. Istvan is drawn to poetry, especially aphoristic poetry, more than to fiction because he lacks the patience for the respectable craft of baiting readers with illusionist techniques (like opening with a pet in peril or having the narrator say things the reader knows to be false). Instead of using tricks to keep readers hooked, he emphasizes the content itself at great risk—especially when coupled with his refusal to truckle to an ideology just because it is politically correct—of alienating mass audiences.

* * *

Poppa, provocateur, poet, philosopher, professor, producer of music and comedy, patriarch of Safe Space Press, peddler of preworn panties, product of Beacon, NY—M. A. Istvan Jr. has long held high Bukowski’s torch to curb our nation’s Mickey-Mouse infestation. In recent years, however, Istvan has been pushing back against one of the most virulent and insidious expressions of the Disneyfication tide: cancel culture, that iron-maiden kangaroo-court ethos of censoring, silencing, and shaming any entities, even artists and professors, accused—merely accused—of being sources of discomfort or perpetrators of “wrong think” and unsanctioned attitudes.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., a staunch believer in the idea that fragility—even if only feigned for the sake of power—is grounds for entitlement, has helped over 200 students crush the livelihoods of professors who—protected far too long under the abuse-enabling banners of “free speech” and “intellectual diversity”—have failed to strip classrooms of unsettling topics and language. For free access to a database of private information about abusers who have yet to be silenced, as well as for more on how YOU can make academia a safe space, visit

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD, born and raised in a functioning ghost town (now turned hipster haven), has a gift for sensing the vibrational frequencies—the earth spirits, if you will—of even the densest flesh: tree, stone, mineral. A certified (but failed) forest-bathing therapist, Istvan writes best—bestial—faded into the backgrounds of brothels, tended to by the ladies for whom his focused presence proves that men can want—can be—something more. Eyes teary with afflatus, most people stay out of Istvan’s vicinity. His hurried step, fierce expression, and wild hand gestures while speaking (speaking in what is perhaps best described as auditory cursive) set off the insanity-detectors ingrained in us by deep history.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD, a former seller of the rights to sell the rights to sell the autobiographies of sports players, is currently a Texas citrus fruit thief. He pinches not just a few grapefruits or navel oranges here and there. He has coordinated large crews—yes yes, of Mexicans—to help him plunder entire acres in the secret of night. Despite the nice physique resulting from his ninja labors, Istvan is upon scrutiny just a nice house built upon sh*tty framework: asymmetries and muscle imbalances galore. For this reason, he stays away from people, living a life relatively unviolated by the messages with which his society floods itself. Indeed, in light of his burgeoning struggle to cope even with daily stress (a struggle in essence to hold his psychosis at bay now that his obsessive-compulsive and intellectualization practices no longer seem to do the job), Istvan will soon most likely disappear into the inaccessible parts of his mind.

* * *

Fortunate to have been banjoed to several times by Pete Seeger in elementary school, M. A. ISTVAN JR., PhD was born and raised in what is arguably the psychic hub of North America (New York’s Hudson Valley), where it is not uncommon for a baby’s first words to be “futhark” or “astral.” As it turns out, however, Istvan is a complete disgrace to his people when it comes to tapping into lunar energies, bending keys, communing with archangels, employing healing crystals to cure cancers, sensing cold spots in the most haunted of cemeteries, wilting garden weeds with a mere dogged stare in their direction, understanding the chiromantic significance of a triple-line girdle of Venus, and distinguishing a blank ceramic tile to be cast off with the cigarette butts in an ashtray from what is the very rune of Odin to be cast for divination! The last time he visited home he mistook the celebration marking the earth’s evolutionary shift from 3rd to 4th chakra existence for nothing more than New Year’s enthusiasm that just happened to be a bit more intense than usual. That was at the end of 2012 and he has been too ashamed to show his face there since.

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr. is a nonbinary poet and danseuse who has been struggling to raise funds for bottom surgery since 2016. Survival sex work, especially in an LGBTQQIP2SAA+-phobic society of COVID social distancing, barely pays the rent and definitely does not come with insurance. Lizzo says it best: “I don’t even wanna hoe no mo’.” Any contribution helps. Istvan is just trying to feel more at home in his own body. Cashapp: $Cutstello. GoFundMe:

* * *

M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD, although a university professor, actually makes most of his money now as a method translator of AAVE. In light of his extreme efforts to ensure sincere and emotionally expressive translation, Jet Magazine has in fact dubbed him the Daniel-Day-Lewis of his craft. For instance, he might sip Tempranillo from a Burgundy glass when translating to Standard English and swig Boone’s Farms from a brown-bagged bottle when translating the other way.

* * *

Rejected by his academic peers for incidents that have resulted from his brazen narcolepsy and two-spiritedness, M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD Istvan survives by poaching burl and—there is no help for it—by government assistance.

Menace and humor, indeed! And perhaps that menace and humor goes some way to explain one of the big riddles we see in Istvan, the riddle he has in common with a lot of rappers in the trap genre: even his darkest most negative lyrics—content that could kill your will to live, your trust in fellow man, and even your metaphysical security—somehow always have an inspirational edge (an edge explained, but only in part, by the sense that we are watching Istvan use words to keep his head above water in spite of the soulful pain ringing through those words).

Istvan is foremost a comedian: his jokes and irony serving as dowsing rods to the problems of the reality that birthed them. Only a trickster personality fraught with such tensions, perhaps only a reincarnation of an indigenous Mexican, could so revel in depictions of abiding sadness and brutality in such proximity to festive joy and beauty.

dad sucker punching you in the gut
just as you are about to beat him
for once in driveway basketball

you went that extra mile for tradition, allowing
oral-suction circumcision for your infant, never
thinking herpes would be included in the deal

finned sharks tossed
overboard, pulsing gills
mocked by dull current

direct knowledge of how many die alone,
their terminal struggles among piles of stuff
unseen, urges us to share more—smile more

instead of blocking from mind
the death of a dream, why not
commemorate it with a dream urn?

is there any greater compliment
to some other than to fall asleep
under the touch of that other?

never forget the magic
of watching an other
watch the stars

the park dog chases a ball
tossed from the festivities
and into your loneliness

antidepressants because you are
a closet gay, help at least in that
they decimate your sex drive

child pockets bulge with rocks—not ones
found too pretty to leave in the dirt, but ones
that by some magic of youth will stop tanks

each time unable to help but read
the Boy Scout three-finger salute
as how many the troop leader got in

how long do you manage to abstain
yourself, typically, when a molester
appears in the national headlines?

the breeze, although it carries
particles of burned persons,
sweeps back the beloved’s hair

in the absence of expected disaster, we are
left again to what we do not want to be
left again to: each other—each other’s eyes

If MFYM is just about stimulating the nerves, it accomplishes its goal. It may even be designed to liberate the soul (revealing, among other things, that we are all eternally-harbored expressions of an self-necessitated creative force). And yet one should be aware that, although it is not designed to be one of those art pieces that scares the viewer away like a threatening dog, MFYM might have that effect. Bearing witness to, and mirroring back at us, the habits and values of our society (even the ugly and the sad), refusing to sanction the practices of a decadent mob culture that seems to have no interest in correcting itself (indeed, that seems to celebrate repeating the same old dysfunctional patterns), MFYM—for most at least—is not some musical that we can go to and forget our troubles for a time and step out refreshed. It deals not only with harsh realities (like rape and natural disasters), but with the deepest existential problems: whether we have free will, whether life has any ultimate meaning. It shakes up the deepest of our intuitions and provides a check on our self-importance, opening up the possibility for a wide range of intellectual breakthroughs. The problem is, harm can come from lifting people’s nose up from mundane trivialities: picking up the kids and doing laundry and going shopping—all the opioids for which MFYM is literary Narcan. Expect MFYM to shock and enrage in the way that the psychologist would shock and enrage his patients were he to lay out for them, on the very first meeting, all the ways in which their thinking is faulty (even if all he was intending was to display his acumen so that the patients would realize how lucky they are to have him). Liberating as MFYM is, then, many will have their defense-mechanisms triggered and will want to flee from this furnace that melts their life-enduring shields against despair, exposing their hypocrisies and secrets and fears and ultimately the brute reality of their nearing obliteration. Therapeutic as it is, MFYM is ultimately culture-work art—indeed, often shadow-work art complete even with tears of newborn vagin*—and so is entitled to be brutal in a way that would mark a talk-therapist as amateurish. And if what Aristotle says of tragedy is true of poetry (it excites fear if it is good), then the fact that MFYM does enflame our fear—especially our unease about our cultural and existential situations—is a good sign. (It should be noted, however, that there are some moments when Istvan seems to be doing the literary equivalent of having a suicide shootout with police. These moments, typically revolving around attacking the idols and taboos of our time, definitely do enflame our fear, but it can be hard always to regard them as a good sign.)

No doubt even the most battered down might try to wrench some succor from the fact that at least Istvan seems to have hope that things can improve. Why would he write MFYM if not out of culture-worker hope to jostle people to reach higher? It is hard not to shake the feeling, nevertheless, that Istvan writes these stanzas—stanzas sometimes with an air of intellectual fidgeting—simply because he is compelled to, like those who write in their diaries even though they know the Earth-shattering meteor is just minutes away—a sort of immortality vehicle. And yes, Istvan does not lift us up with talk about how in a transcendent world of bliss all the miseries of our meat-body situation will be shed. But precisely in the need-to-get-it-out overflow, as well as in the content of the overflow (most significantly that we are all in this together as necessitated modes of perfection), he does give us good reason—if only we go through the fire with him—to find contentment (or even eudaimonia) in this world, to feel courage in the face of life predicaments, to befriend our inner saboteurs, to become our most efficacious selves: selves better equipped to overcome barriers, experience gratitude, feel more secure in the face of uncertainty, and direct powerful emotions to productive ends.

Miniaturizing what seems intolerant to miniaturization, MFYM manages to condense whole paragraphs, perhaps even whole books, into images and reflections and scenes listed one after the other in a dismembered dream concatenation. Fragment after fragment pile up. No connective tissue imposed upon the surface-level farrago, no overarching emotional state dictated, the details assemble themselves in the reader’s head. It would seem to be a mistake, however, to regard MFYM as a celebration of left-hemisphere disjunction over right-hemisphere flow, harsh dislocations over seamless gestalt. Representing the flow without purely would spell a gray goo of hom*ogeneity. Cleaving up the whole allows us to celebrate the whole in a way we would have been dumb to if we would have just left it as is. To object to any cleaving is ultimately to object to being alive as a determinate creature. Creatures cleave given their interests and thereby disclosed what was buried in the “night in which all cows are black.” The key is never forgetting, and MFYM at times explicitly tells us not to forget, that these fragments are mere scoops from a river and that it would be a mistake to think that the river is nothing but a collection of isolated scoops.

The list-nature of MFYM is so pronounced that we cannot help but ask the set-theoretical question whether the list includes itself as a member. It turns out that it does, in fact. MFYM, the name of the entire list, is one of the items listed within it, which lends a fractal-feel to the work. If lists are a form of cultural hysteria (as DeLillo says in his famous Paris Review interview from 1993), then MFYM might seem to be the crowning jewel of such hysteria. The list of the hysteric, however, is a sort of coping mechanism. It is a way to simplify the chaotic. MFYM, on the other hand, celebrates the chaotic—or, more accurately in light of its fractal feel, the chaosmotic—too much to be reduced to a simplifying-ordering-coping mechanism. By some we-want-to-bottle magic seemingly akin to that displayed by those special adults who somehow can get uncooperative kids to cooperate, MFYM produces the experience of penetrating chaos while at the same time reigning it in. Sure there are some reductions and simplifications. That cannot be helped. But that is not what this multiperspectival mosaic sets out to do.

Sunny and airy and kindly and vernal at some points while darkand stifling and awe-inspiring and brumal at others, disturbing the comfortable while comforting the disturbed, MFYM is eclectic through and through. Although perhaps slightly more grave and grand and wild, MFYM rings gay and graceful and manicured as well (such that the whole cannot but be, however much somberness and cynicism smolders within, a gospel of yes-saying). Some stanzas are heavy meals whereas others are mere condiments. Some are serious verbal graffiti whereas others are just some quick tags. Some generate more heat than light whereas others generate more light than heat. Some conceal the known within the unknown whereas others conceal the unknown within the known. Some directly target ephemeral quirks of the day doomed to wither into irrelevance (albeit almost never without highlighting some lasting core within them) whereas others directly target repeating principles resistant in their universality to growing old in human time (and in some cases all time). Some are hymns to the mundane whereas others are arguments for metaphysical theses. Some reflect intercourse with the news and gossip of the all-too-real today whereas others reflect intercourse with the ghosts and counterfactual scenarios of masters throughout history in the heaven of Istvan’s own mindscape. Some take the subjective or inward approach of describing the emotions of those dwelling within various mental and physical landscapes (and with such liveliness that it feels as if one is actually suffering those emotions) whereas others take the objective or outward approach of describing the various mental and physical landscapes themselves (and here too with such liveliness that it feels as if one is actually there—there seeing the tattered fliers and the heroin track marks and the gimp hands and the supped-up civics and the hobos muttering to themselves under four layers of ratty clothing and the creampies and the doll eyes and the arthritic knuckles). Some are all about the narrative whereas others strip away all surface to cut straight to the meaning, the higher truth, the propositional content. Some rail against the stupidities and injustices of reality with Byronic negation and paranoia whereas others celebrate the entire tapestry of love and indifference and even brutal violence with Shakespearean affirmation and security. Some are accessible only to the most sophisticated (making all others come to a halt, no longer aware of what they are even reading) whereas others are accessible only to the most unsophisticated (making, again, all others come to a halt, no longer aware of what they are even reading). Some go below or above you whereas others go right at you. Some present ephemeral dreamscapes of emotive images in the open-ended tone of a wonderer whereas others suss out with geometric sobriety both the incongruities of human life and the deepest problems of reality in the deterministic tone of a mathematician. Some have the passion-laden lines of hurried dilation famous in Ginsberg whereas others have the drama-laden lines of unhurried constriction famous in Bukowski. Some are intended for public broadcast whereas others are intended for private contemplation. And so on—all with the same roguish attitude Baudrillard shows readers in his collections of Cool Memories, the same insightfulness of Lichtenberg’s aphorisms, and the same undulating tactility of David Foster Wallace’s sprawling prose. In effect, MFYM may on occasion appeal to—but is not written for (and, in fact, harbors virtues incomprehensible to)—the masses, the immature, the blasé.

Ready to ridicule even the cultural orthodoxy for its hypocrisies (which a tenderhearted person like himself cannot help but feel in his bones), Istvan writes here—often with livelihood-risking humor, off-color (like people with right hemisphere damage) and jet black (like his tenderhearted despair)—without fear of uttering his best thoughts, despite knowing that they might enter a society mixed enough that someone—and not necessarily even someone in the majority (uncaring, uncritical, uneducated)—might be offended. Embodying the ancient-Greek appreciation for beauty and terror, that audiences today would take offense is highly likely. On the one hand, our era is one in which the bar as to what is considered worthy of offense is set extremely low, the reason being that the more we are able to say we have been victimized the more social capital, the more power over the lives and literal bodies of others, the more of an excuse to act upon our nihilistic urge for destruction, we have in our victimhood culture. On the other hand, Istvan—having mushroomed from homeless and illiterate rungs of society, no stranger to having cops called on him (even just this year)—is partial, and maniacally so, to the licentious and the vulgar and the violent and the anarchic. Many—even non-philistines—will steer clear of his writings because he never fails to remind us of the potentially self-esteem and self-respect crushing fact that we lie to ourselves in order to live. Many will steer clear of his writings because he never fails to remind us of all the things we tacitly agree for the sake of our sanity never to bring to light. Wanting the horizon of experience to stay narrow and therefore safe, many will steer clear of his writings because he never fails to remind us of the full range of our potential behaviors—from jumping on a live grenade to save the troop (despite the wife and child back home) to joining with others, chimp style, to rip the testicl*s and limbs off outsiders. To be pitied for living in a time and place of pitiful culture, Istvan also has a tendency to get polemical when it comes to the deplorable phenomena that would draw out ire from almost any ruthful artist-intellectual: celebrity presidents, cancel culture, uncritical conspiracy thinking, superstition. Istvan never shies away, perhaps it is most important to say, from spotlighting disagreeable, even dangerous, truths—chief among them: that nothing is ultimately up to any of us.

And here we arrive at a significant criticism. On the assumption that some realities—like some Thanksgiving-table topics—should not be unearthed (if only out of hygienic consideration for the wellbeing of potential audiences), Istvan—recklessly open to truth, seemingly unable to hold his peace or to cover his class origins—fails bigtime in MFYM. Tragic as it is for me to say, especially since (given the übermenschen-cultivating potential of MFYM) Istvan could be the Corneille for some future Napoleon, the saving grace here is that the chances are low for MFYM to impact great numbers—let alone be taken up into the very substance of the people (the way Descartes, for example, to this day remains in France). First, its richness in range and profundity in thought and refinement in style, while helping to transfigure the depraved and deleterious bits, make MFYM exclusionary (in the manner of Nietzsche) and challenging (in the manner of a twenty-minute shrill-and-grating Coltrane solo). Each stanza shines with such intensity that it is easy to feel overwhelmed, like a film with too many stars together. Some things are so good that they are literally too much. Of even those who praise Eminem highly, I imagine many do not have his songs appearing often in their playlists. I imagine they are prone to skip over his tracks when they do come on. The barrage of skill can be unbearable. It can make you feel overwhelmed, insane—and, if you are an emcee yourself, worthless. Perhaps only a connoisseur will be overwhelmed with the admiration called for by the tight literature crammed with meaning that we find in MFYM. Second, US culture—and perhaps world culture altogether—not only is at a low point (and continuing to decline), but also has little time for the writing arts, which must compete with video screens in each room and pocket as well as, of course, with last-ditch efforts to survive climate disaster. The only ones likely to take up MFYM, then, would be academics, who—in seeing it, using it, as but a tool to advance their careers (rather than as a spur to change their lives)—would be too dissociated from the words they dissect, anyway, to feel the living sting. Since great poetry requires great audiences, it is hard to say—in our current epochal shadow—that MFYM is great poetry.

Some will characterize MFYM, however refined in style it might be, as over-curious and too indiscriminate. Fruitful excitement does come easier than discerning judgment in a youthful person, to be sure. So perhaps Istvan, a young man himself, can be excused. Excused for what, exactly? For his apparent inability to bear letting pass into the waters of Lethe even the most quotidian characters and settings and happenings—and from all spheres of reality, in fact: from the “inanimate” and “unconscious” geosphere of rocks and water, to the animate and “pre-conscious” biosphere of birds and trees, to the self-conscious noosphere of anxious creatures who see themselves as responsibility-bearing islands unto themselves that will one day die, to the necessity-embracing Spinozosphere of creatures who see themselves as eternally-harbored ripples of the self-necessitated hive Being. If such restive and democratic engagement with diversity runs against the good taste of mature audiences (something I doubt), then fine: let MFYM sing to the youth.

Istvan is in good company regardless as to whom his work sings. The sublime and the squalid, angels and anal rape, God and gonorrhea all put on a par—MFYM’s radical inclusivism to all walks of life (and nonlife) cannot help but call to mind the unadulterated empathy of Whitman and Proust: empathy catholic enough to extend to all sectors of humanity and beyond (including, as I suggested above, to Japan-plus-Germany scenarios of perversion). As the following samples show, Istvan’s wizard wand would be Hagrid-length, reflecting his capacity to see where a vast array of others are coming from, and yet with a core of basilisk fang wrapped in veela hair, reflecting both the beauty and the Byronic bite—a bite sparing no one, neither the dark parts of friends nor the light parts of enemies—that result from the penetrations of empathy taken to decentering extremes.

it is more than steady income: crack fiends worship you

if US inmates ever got their hands on Korean soap operas!

undertakers and doulas nettled, having been called prematurely

inhaled into wrestling fandom,
unable in real life
to body slam your boss

after talking out each other’s guilt
for having cheated on their spouses,
the cheaters make love a second time

rival fish we put together for the fun
of watching battles, so just imagine
what prison guards are enticed to do

that empowering feel of stones and knives deflecting off your armor

the mittened child gives himself over
to the adult’s attempt at backtracking
the coat zipper choked up with cloth

she could not bring herself to finish
the book on her dead husband, it being
her way to avoid relinquishing him

the upside of the family tragedy
is that everyone stopped focusing
on how much of a f*ck up you are

that we say “We are destroying the Earth” (rather than “We are making it unlivable
for us”) reflects a faith of which we hope to convince ourselves in saying it: that we
not critters who will thrive when we go (nor proteins, minerals)—are the Earth’s goal

taking out her having lived a life before you
on the most definitive, most implacable, sign
of that life: on her child, beloved in her eyes

the whole summer vacation in a backyard tent

reruns allow for nodding off without anxiety

teeth backs stripped of enamel from jockey-level purging

With lines so lean (even when their length approximates prose), MFYM reads—for better or for worse—like Leaves of Grass or Remembrance of Things Past after a Poundian red-and-blue-penciling. MFYM shines a light on a wide panorama of inhabitants, problems, and ideas while at the same time wondering about our capacity to connect with them.

Despite its great diversity in theme and subject (the conglomeration of which seems to be the poem’s “goal”), MFYM does have several limitations. Three stand out.

First, MFYM is squarely page-poetry. Typical of most literary poetry today, which is designed to be scrutinized back and forth in detail rather than to be heard in an evanescent moment that—although rewindable today—disinvites rewinding, MFYM seems more at home read alone, held firmly in hand, at home. Yes, if descriptions of hamburgers can velvet off the tongue with spoken-word suave in a McDonalds commercial, then perhaps the right person could pull off MFYM spoken-word style. Still, whatever MFYM lacks when it comes to being performed in the lively and moving atmosphere of the stage, it gains as poetry in general.

Second, MFYM seems written by some who, like David foster Wallace (the disembodied eye roving around the cruise ship) or young Ivan Karamozov (the eye witness to tragedies), seems to see his purpose as dissociated documentarian of events, present on the scene simply to pay attention, take notice, but without participating—an isolated someone who wants to see things and capture them in words, but without getting involved (perhaps even when it comes to stopping horrible things from transpiring).

Third, MFYM does not set out to highlight a diversity of speech ways. Aside from a few bits of dialogue here and there (where we get a taste of the negro dialect of Twain, or a taste of the seductress tongue of the stereotypical Asian dragon lady, or so on), we mainly get one predominant voice—albeit one that does consistently mix the erudition of a scholar and the colloquialism of east-coast hip-hop culture prior to the turn of the millennium. The predominant voice in question is that of a philosopher-poet (who refuses, at risk of ignominy, to truckle to an ideology just because it is politically correct), that of a teacher (who is at once priest, artist, doctor, scientist, sage), that of an aphorist—albeit one willing (like Stevens), through use of questions as well as the tentative language of “perhaps” and “so often,” to break the unspoken rule that aphorisms must be definitive and universal (in addition to short and philosophical). The writing style here, which has incurably warped my own, only adds to this sage-voice transporting us to the silence of a more cosmic standpoint—this recalibrating voice, so perhaps it is better to put it, of a curious extraterrestrial (with alien concerns and preferences) whose relatively impartial observations of Earth life serve as ego-check highlights of our limitations, inconsistencies, and moral failings; of our backwoods interpretations and lameness in priorities. The style, which (for better or worse) rarely stutter steps along the way to find where it is going, is almost that of a logician. Because Istvan likes to tuck points within points larger points that themselves are tucked in other points, one cannot help but think of a logic class where atomic statements, here represented by capital letters, are nested within statements of greater and greater complexity: [A → (~B v ~W)] → (P • Z). The result is a florid flourish that could be alienating, especially for readers today, in its high demands on attention and working memory and context awareness and mental flexibility and information integration (and various other powers sourced predominantly in the right hemisphere, a side of the brain neglected more and more each decade in our culture). Even though the voicing and highbrow style (and the packaging in general) are narrow in range, the poetry reliably fosters intimacy with the first-person perspectives of diverse critters (including those traditionally understood as not even having a first-person perspective to begin with).

MFYM’s predictable tone and form, juxtaposed to its corybantic leaps in perspective and content, keep us on our toes at the border between order and chaos, a threshold between safe and threatening where—as perhaps we remember from our childhood—sobbing gives way to guffawing, which gives way to sobbing. The combination of beauty and darkness (even disgust), the clash of excitement and fear (even terror), renders MFYM sublime—a porthole (or even wormhole), for anyone attentive enough, to beyond the circumference of the conventions and mores by which we live our lives. Sucking the black-hole-and-big-bang awesomeness out of every triviality, showcasing how small and unlikely we are and how tenuous our situation is, MFYM—a literary Eleusinian temple—encodes the sublime. Soma-shot stanzas, resplendent with afflatus, channel the goddess and eventually perhaps even obliterate fear of death. Forcing you to reckon with reality, reading it gives one an experience similar to that of gazing upon that famous zoomed-in Hubble image of thousands of galaxies in what seems just an empty pixel of sky. The work of someone overflowing, who needs to get the material out as quick as possible so more does not back up, MFYM is an archive of the questions, concerns, and wisdom of humanity. The poem metabolizes disconsolate truths and ways of life like no other. Each stanza is discrete, a complete poem in its own right, a koan to meditate upon. And yet despite how much each differs from one another (some imagistic and some aphoristic; some humane descriptions and some laying bare the unsavory motives behind actions we would like to think of as pure; some worked over in cloistered conditions and some executed with the plein-air technique; some prescriptive and some descriptive; some metaphysical absolutes and some qualified exceptions), illumination of the whole is found in each part.

There is a great deal of recurrent themes in MFYM: struggles of the poor, self-deception, corporate advertising, bestial*ty, wishful thinking, refugees, academic freedom, God, moral responsibility, cannibalism, Islam, psychedelics, and so on. It should be said that MFYM maintains throughout a noticeable engagement with art in general and with painting in particular. There are recurrent settings too, perhaps the most dominant in the 2016 section being—strange enough—Amway seminars. There is also a strong formal continuity conveyed by a chorus that repeats, a restriction to stanzas of either one or three lines in length (monostiches or tercets), and the fact that each stanza—like each brushstroke of Cezanne’s “Lee Grandes Bagneueses”—carries equal weight. Reminiscent of Maggie Nelsen, for whom the theoretical and the imagistic come together in one flow (neither regarded as more appropriate to creative writing than the other), all the stanzas (usually no more than 50 words each) coalesce as a mosaic—pixels in a grand tapestry of love, love echoing to infinity by means of ties to the mundane when ethereal and to the ethereal when mundane.

What is special about MFYM is that it reminds us that the poem is capacious enough to engirdle vast areas of experience. Istvan may not make lilies bloom from acorns here. And yet, wise in his words and gay in his feelings, he does make us forget that we ever wanted them to. Each line of MFYM is often plain (and definitely unencumbered by the “poetic” speech that, today at least, reveals an amateur). Although the accessibility might lead some readers to underrate the depth of what is going on, each line is tied by a wise alacrity lending the whole great beauty. Even when MFYM gives readers nothing but Platonist paradigms, these paradigms are often so specific that they seem concrete despite their proverbial impersonality. They seem written, if you will, by an abstraction-minded Raymond Carver.

that squinched face faintly shifted off to the side,
its lead eye clenched in recoil, as cigarette smoke
tendrils up from the ember (hands busy elsewhere)

Like an abstract painting that spotlights the mere geometrical shapes from which everyday objects are composed by detethering them from those objects (thereby allowing, at least one might say, more fine-grained celebrations of those objects), this stanza—which lets, by analogy, the smile float free from the Cheshire Cat—spotlights its subject (namely, that repeated phenomenon of recoiling from smoke crawling up your face from the head of the cigarette between your lips) by detethering that subject from any concrete state of affairs in which it is instantiated, purposely refusing to say that the smoker’s hands are, for instance, washing dishes or cutting vegetables or counting money or rolling another cigarette.

It does seem important for a writer to grow away from the dilettantish focus on the imitable abstract eidos, which is motivated often by a unfounded fear that only by speaking generally will what is said be met with sympathetic understanding, and toward the craftsman focus on the inimitable concrete individual, which is motivated often by a trust that the reader will be able to see the universal through the local, that is, see how the local counts as a repetition of the universal. MFYM sometimes stays squarely in the heaven of abstract eidoi. Other times it plummets to the underworld of concrete individuals, apprehending them with fine-grained attention. Precisely through such a clash, though, a whole blooms that amounts to a Hegelian return from the individual back up to the eidos, the eidos made thereby concrete. To bring this all together: being itself, the most abstract concept and the target of Istvan’s celebration, is rendered concrete by means of the agonistic journey. The fragmentary method, where the subject is treated from various angles, brings being itself—the Absolute—out of a monotonous and abstract “night in which all cows are black” and into an exciting and concrete day in which the various modes of being itself are cleaved from one another (but not so deeply as to do the impossible: cleave being itself to the core and thereby conceal the fact that each local event or moment or creature is an illustration of eternity). It would be a mistake, perhaps one indicative of right-hemisphere disfunction, to see the superficial isolation of elements as an expression of right-hemisphere disfunction.

Clearly influenced by the collage technique of modernists like Eliot and Williams, MFYM is a patchwork poem through and through. It is composed of one and three line stanzas, each of which has two to ten times the concentration of a typical poem and seems plucked from the same ether from which was plucked the sparse but emotionally rich “Time after Time.” If poetry is fiction in distilled form, then these gnomic nuggets, not even full sentences in many cases, are some of the highest potency extracts achievable: attar of rose, attar of bum, attar of aging, attar of dreams, attar of ocean, attar of parenting, attar of dying, attar of rape, attar of fear, attar of dance, attar of painting, attar of humiliation, attar of spirituality, attar of apocalypse, attar of convalescence, attar of depression, attar of jealousy, attar of guilt, attar of chores, and so on. “Truer” in virtue of their distillation than news reports or historical surveys or even the typical poem for that matter, the stanzas of MFYM have an uncanny capacity to knock you out of your habituated complacency, opening you up to unexplored corners of the mundane—beyond the filter of your own memories and schemes of categorization. Even imagistic and analytic stanzas accomplish such a feat.

like a cobra in threat, the floating sway
of his head goes subtle as the boxer—
no brainless bruiser—awaits an angle

how lighting the candle
between us kills the shadows
from under our eyes

luring cats with that human-snake hiss
of a long alveolar S interspersed
with subtle bilabial Ps: “sspsspsspss”

Some stanzas of MFYM would no doubt read to future civilizations as Parmenides’s lines read to us now (and perhaps as Parmenides’s lines read at least to some of his contemporaries): dense enough to be almost mystically cryptic (in the room their brevity gives us to explore their implications). With its jests, prognostications, flippant affirmations, intransigent axioms, guerrilla sallies, rules of etiquette, riddles, nonce phrases, sutras, tall tales, metaphors, moral awakenings, adages, koans, allusions, folk wisdom, Confucian admonitions, Martialian obscenities, moral lessons, mottos, metonyms, generalizations, animadversions, nostalgic laments, dubitations, vociferous outbursts, reports, watchwords, ruthless aspersions, entextualizations, transgressions, slogans, disclosive divagations, self-help encouragements, quasi-mystical speculations, and invidious questions (“how many ‘Yass Queen!’s does it take to reach morbid obesity?”), MFYM—like a good Swiss army knife with a tool for every occasion—contains fragments of use whether things are going well or whether things are in a state of catastrophe. Even when it “stoops” to direct practical advice, the results are as useful as they are sarcastic (as they are so often).

to get on an authority’s good side,
ask questions seemingly nontrivial
that you know it can answer easily

rip up junk mail and send it back to sender
with the included business-reply envelope:
the company gets charged for each return

ignore the child’s giftedness to ignore the burden

vacuum your car: dust and crumbs can add up to a felony

just say the baby roaches in the cereal are flax seeds

when the young man is stressing about tough situations ahead—
interviews, public addresses—he ought to realize how later,
likely at least, they will seem so easy and be so missed

to get out of the insane asylum
clean up after yourself and help
others do so (without obsession)

a message to more advanced cultures: preserve not just the literal jewels,
but also all the hard-earned folk wisdoms, of the indigenous peoples before
the “controlled burn,” the Etch-A-Sketch shake, of their lands and ways

aside from a good dicking (and showing her other qualities), to solve the problem—
namely, that if she wins you, you will no longer have the faithful-family-man status
that drew her in—a standard move is to complain that your wife does not love you

if you get off on blaming beings for what they are and making them suffer for it
while you feel righteous, the standard move is to convince them that they like you
are free: that just as your goodness was up to you, their evilness was up to them

to blunt the death conniption, recall that urge to stay in bed
those dark mornings of storm, and tell yourself it was the urge
to forsake keeping the jigsaw together, which might just be a lie

revenge only in secret to remain
worthy of pity and to avoid erasing
the memory of your victimization

Even Istvan’s more platitudinous fragments almost always contain some sort of twist that either makes the platitude appear less worn or at least makes us think something new. Consider the following stanza, for example.

some take the solution of shifting their idea of leisure
to boast in good conscience that their work is leisure,
which may really open up how fun their work really is

After saying how one way to make work seem like leisure is to change our conception of leisure, Istvan points out that we may even find through such horrid-sounding self-deceit that we were closed to some fun aspects of the work. Consider as well the following inspirational stanza, which does not simply repeat but pushes further the now rather trite maxim that geniuses do what they cannot but do (rather than simply what they have a talent for). It manages, in fact, to merge such a maxim with the equally widespread, and seemingly opposed, maxim about genius more popular in the US: that genius is nothing more than persistence, patience, perspiration.

some are defeated to learn that, since they do merely what they can
rather than what they must, they are no genius; but doing something
merely because you can might just land you in doing what you must

MFYM is not without its own dead spots (at least compared to those jaw-dropping lines written with irrevocability and sprezzatura, studied nonchalance). But even these have a place in the whole. First, they—as with some of the overwrought lines as well—humanize the work, making it less alienating than it would be were there no caesura from the on and on of literary platinum. This point should not be understated. Istvan runs the risk in MFYM, so one might say, of stripping away the chocolate-chip-cookie matrix and leaving behind just the chocolate chips. But while the chocolate chips might be the best part, and while most of us would prefer a lot of chocolate chips, there is such a thing as too many chocolate chips. Things can go so far out of proportion, in fact, that we cannot call the pile in our hand “a cookie.” So the relative dead spots, along with the frequent revisiting of various themes, make the whole more palatable. Nietzsche puts the point well.

Bread neutralizes and takes out the taste of other food, and is thereforenecessary to every long meal. In all works of art there must be something like bread, in order that they may produce divers effects. If these effects followed one another without occasional pauses and intervals, they would soon make us weary and provoke disgust—in fact, a long meal of art would then be impossible. (Wanderer and His Shadow 98)

Second, and relatedly, the so-called dead spots—and this goes for the lucubrations mentioned as well—serve as alternative baits for alternative readers. Some will like the conceptualizations and musings. Others will like the mere descriptions of scenery and objects (which provide a setting for those conceptualizations and musings). Baudrillard puts the main point well.

Fragmentary writing is, ultimately, democratic writing. Each fragment enjoys equal distinction. The most banal one finds its exceptional reader. Each, in its turn, has its hour of glory. (Cool Memories 3, 8)

What I see as literary platinum might not speak to young readers who lack the sophistication to grasp how platinum it is. What I see as a dead spot, however, might just be what keeps them dwelling in the work. Young people might be drawn, for example, to the enactment of freestyle rap scattered throughout every section of MFYM.

a sliver of a cipher on the corner while at a red light:
“Soused Beaconites slouched on some outdoor couch,
piss doused—odor of the droppings of mouse.”

a sliver of a cipher on the corner while at a red light:
“Endless spiral (wake to sleep until its final);
fishbowl cycle (eat-swim-eat, its archetypal)

a sliver of a cipher on the corner while at a red light:
“Amazed by the detailed maze of varicose veins
on this double-chinned bitches’ corpulent pale legs”

a sliver of a cipher on the corner while at a red light:
“Froze static like the kraken by the scenes I’ve seen happen
floatin’ back in flashes potent acid while toking grasses”

a sliver of a cipher on the corner while at a red light:
“Mad-erratic for packets of that aquatic
so bad it be sabbath but bat sh*ts be Mary Magdalene’s”

It is likely that the culturally endowed will find more than enough dead spots here. For in addition to the subjective and relative nature of dead spots, it should be kept in mind that Istvan belongs irredeemably to the poor and disenfranchised: people who, in those cases where they do strive after knowledge and depth, wind up feeling quite profound uttering insights—perhaps from their blunt-and-40-ounce haze—that well-to-do and educated people confronted in their early teens (if not before).

All that said, MFYM seems intended to strip away the typical dead spots of many poems (allusions to classical mythology, scene-setting to build up to the point, and so on) and keeps the best parts: the cheese-burger conversations, for example, in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Nietzsche’s warning to those who disparage brevity should perhaps be kept in mind here.

A brief dictum may be the fruit and harvest of long reflection. The reader, however, who is a novice in this field and has never considered the case in point, sees something embryonic in all brief dicta, not without a reproachful hint to the author, requesting him not to serve up such raw and ill-prepared food (Miscellaneous Maxims and Opinions 127).

Whittling everything down to such potent and elegant brevity, a terseness demanding meditation to tap the depths of its meaning, is what distinguishes MFYM’s stanzas from the tweets that those stanzas on occasion superficially resemble. In line with the Poundian project of condensing Henry James, the Nietzschean project of clearing the extraneous from Dostoyevsky, this feat of radical compression cuts to the intensive highlights of each of our stories, sometimes electrifying our nervous system and other times electrifying our reason. If it is the case that literature becomes religious writing the more it cuts deeper into the potent core, MFYM is perhaps best thought of as religious. It is religious, however, not for the many (that would involve moving stories like Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel), but for—how might we put it?—Plato's philosopher kings.

When we consider that between the unapproachable excellences of Shakespeare and Goethe, Spinoza and Nietzsche, little hope remains for novel remarks concerning the deepest aspects of reality and human nature, the condensation project that Istvan carries out is one of the few a writer conscious of these literary juggernauts could ever have the courage to take up in good conscience. Aside from blocking our ears to them, pretending they never were, what else is an aware and reverent writer to do in their wake but serve as their handmaidens—reanimating, in his own fashion (perhaps more pertinent to his people), the observations and plots and situations already laid out? Seen as a stripped down version of numerous masterpieces, which would make it a prime place to go (especially if you have no living master under which to serve as apprentice) to accustom yourself to the intellectual refinement of the greats and to gain a compass for navigating life with depth and care and courage, MFYM rises higher than other handmaiden labors (think, for example, of modern renditions of Shakespeare plays)—perhaps even to the heights of the greats themselves (on the reasonable assumption that an artwork appropriating within itself all the excellences of what came before matches, if not surpasses, at least the lowest of those masterpieces). This summation of a vast range of timeless insights and touching situations and beautiful images helps to obviate in future literary art the wasted effort of reinvention and to stoke an exponential expansion of knowledge in the humanities. This summation, let us not forget, will serve as wisdom-cultivating, humanity-preserving, cliff notes for our STEM leaders and innovators, leaders and innovators otherwise perhaps too busy engineering technologies to extend our lives, or to travel to different star systems, or to reincarnate the dead through their genome—well, at least those who have built up enough “karma” over their lives for us to devote the resources to. With this resource in place to serve as fresh starting points for new exploration, who can predict the leaps we might make, especially with the help of artificial intelligence?

Like Giacometti’s portrait “Annette,” the minimal gestures of MFYM yield maximal results. What is strange, though, is that while each succinct stanza embodies the ideal of the Greeks (nothing in excess), the whole—unstopping, ever-growing (beyond two hundred thousand words so far)—embodies the ideal of being itself (plenitude). The effect—compression without compromise—is that of being, at least for me, at once satiated and yet hungry for more. But only a certain type of person, as suggested already, will have the stomach for it. The condensation, plus the repeated challenges to our biases and the way the familiar is made strange, means that MFYM places much more demands on the right hemisphere than on the left. Given our cultural bias in favor of the left hemisphere-thinking, which is most at home when everything is familiar and spelled out and literal, those with the stomach for it will be rare.

MFYM, the ultimate desert island poem about the essence of poetry, might be best described as ur-poetry. A poet’s poet (like Holderlin) and clearly un homme de fragment (as was once said of Cioran), Istvan presents as poetry the lively kernels that, for good or for bad, in most other poets inspire poetry, serve as the ground for a poem. Take the following poem, for example.

shot down in war, for years family
spoke—children knowing no better—
as if he were still fighting overseas

After reading such a tweet-sized report, which—like almost every stanza in MFYM—retains its charm even after explained, one might be inspired to “poetize” it. But there is risk in that. The stanza’s of MFYM are not just what the typical poem is: literature without all the setup of prose getting in the way. The stanzas, instead, go so far as to be, to use George Murray’s description of aphorisms, “poems without all the poetry getting in the way.” There are, notice, no cliché odes here: “Oh sweet father!” No histrionic “if onlys”: “If only I could feel your breath, touch your face.” No forced similes: “I would touch your face like historians touch vaulted manuscripts.” No screams at the sky: “For God’s sake, anyone, tell me why! Why was my father shot down? Why did they keep me ignorant of his fall?” Of course, not all poets fall into these “traps.”

Performance does have a place here, of course—and often in traditional ways: rhyme, meter, alliteration.

wine purple-stained
places nibbling teeth
had lip-skin flayed

It is just that, like a chef who does not want to bury the natural flavor of the meat with craft sauces, Istvan tends to put meaning first. His heterodox gesture of being a poet waking us up to savor meaning is perhaps the necessary radical antidote to a shallow world of inconsistent, half-baked, and vague thinking that passes as good poetry merely because of its superficial adornment. Istvan is poetizing here, as his right-in-your-face voice shows, with a hammer. Far from rejecting the craftwork of formal poetry, however, one cannot help but get the sense that Istvan is clearing the way to remarry refined technique with depth and significance and relevance.

Now, if indeed MFYM is a sort of ur-poetry, this book might be construed as a series of spurs, prompts, for creating poems. All books of poetry can be construed in this way, of course. But given the bare-bones nature of each oracular stanza, such a construal is more natural here. One might say, in different words, that these intense miniatures, although by no means mere sketches or practice for the “grander” long poem, incite one to create poems more forcefully than other poems. The storytellers and popularizers in many of us, so I imagine, might feel a drive here, more so than when reading other poems, to dilute these concentrated drops of Carolina Reaper with setting and character and plot to make them perhaps palatable to a wider audience. How can we expect the masses, especially stew-eating white folk in the countryside, to handle such powerful seasoning? I myself, for whatever it might be worth, have no desire for the incidental details here: names, places, times, allusions, small talk, authorial flourishes, and so on. The mere themes, which awaken in me so many thoughts, make me feel as if I am in the midst of living wisdom (rather than of just the relics of wisdom). The mere unadorned cores, which awaken in me so many emotions, are palatable despite their radical Scoville level.

The spice metaphor does awaken an important thought. To those who fall below a philosopher’s level of understanding and yet not so far as to reach the level of an insensate brute, what Goethe says about Lessing’s work might apply to MFYM as well: it could be downright dangerous (without the dilution of some sort of priestly intermediary). MFYM does have its own built-in safety measure for at-risk populations, though. The concentration, plus the unapologetic literary nature of the bold and racy writing, ensures a potent effect, yes—but at the “price” of limiting the truly receptive audience to an elite few elevated above the commercial-art cravings of the general public. MFYM is an education manual, yes (and one that, training men primarily to become courageous and appreciative observers, unearths the secrets of human nature, I daresay, to Shakespearean degrees). But perhaps, and this is a central criticism (and a central reason why Shakespeare’s oeuvre still towers above MFYM), it is an education manual mainly for the gifted, the ones who were those rare infants—DNAed for elevated character and intellect, vagin*lly-birthed, undrugged, breastfed, stimulated with dazzling music and words and gestures—in possession of that striking light of master curiosity and intelligence in their eyes. The rest, fortunately (for reasons at least indirectly alluded to throughout this foreword), are ill-equipped to trek back from Istvan’s words, mere faint reflections of the animating volcano that gave rise to them, anywhere near the volcano itself.

What was said about MFYM’s relationship to poetry can be said about its relationship to philosophy. “Thoughts without all the philosophy getting in the way” (Murray’s other description of aphorisms), MFYM is best construed as ur-philosophy as well. A wonderful indication of this is evident in the following subtle proof for God.

to think that nothing is able to withstand
sufficient shaking is perhaps to forget
the condition of the possibility for shaking

Or take Istvan’s rejoinder to those who say how the odds of our being here points to the existence of God.

we would not have been (or not have hit the lotto or so on) had there been
even minor alteration of the contributing circ*mstances, but what is minor
is relative: a different shirt the day the numbers were played is quite major

Or take Istvan’s argument—argument without argument, if you will—for the theological claim that the blueprint of creation comes with creation itself rather than prior to it.

possibilities have being or they do not—
either way, before anything comes to be
what possibilities are there to refer to?

Or take Istvan’s case for immortality.

not only do the ripples we are and make—themselves a function of ripples—extend
indefinitely, we are immortal in that we never stop being virtual modes of being itself
and in that we are necessitated by a necessary source and so are eternal in actuality

how could each being, each shape of being itself, not already be there—inscribed, encrypted, nested—in those states of reality preceding them
if those states preceding them really are their sufficient explanation?

Or take his case for the claim that nothing is up to us, that we are never morally responsible—deserving of praise or blame independent of any pragmatic considerations—for anything we do, which is something he defends more thoroughly in academic articles.

nothing is up to us: if o is up to you, clearly you must have chipped in to giving rise to o
and up to you must be some piece (z) of what you chipped in; if z is up to you, the same
goes—back, back, to a point where, at best, what infant-you chips in is not up to you

Or, relatedly, take his case for chronological determinism, the view that the past guarantees that any future that does play out does play out (however many futures there may be) and that any future that does not play out does not play out—a view according to which we are not “some victims,” but “part and parcel,” of “the grand wave of necessitation.”

all you do and think is guaranteed from before your birth: (1) the entirety of reality—
physical, spiritual, eternal, supernatural, whatever—at any given moment causes,
sufficiently, the entirety at the next moment, and (2) sufficient causation is transitive

before fixes after: (1) there is a sufficient cause for all that occurs and so for any future
that plays out from any given time; (2) the past, which includes everything in that past
(even the atemporal), provides the sufficient cause (since backwards causation is out)

you can defy the influences of the not-all-things-considered remote past (gene pressures
to be a drunk, say), but that defiance itself is pre-fixed by the all-things-considered past:
the now is sufficiently caused by the right before, and that by the right before, and so on

Or take his musings about materialism.

that it is unfair to blame you for the horrors ten thousand years ago of a person
configured just like you from particles numerically identical to yours,
does that mean you are more than just particles in a certain configuration?

you seem to be the same as someone made of different particles (you, say,
ten years ago), but not the same as someone made of your exact particles
(someone, say, two thousand years ago and yet made of your exact particles)

Or take one of Istvan’s many defenses of certain forms of bestial*ty, here in the form of pointing out the hypocrisy in many of us who so staunchly oppose it.

okay-to-proceed signals (erections, leaning in)
do not suffice for consent, say the same people
who chase down shrieking beasts for slaughter

Or take Istvan’s evolution-informed solution to the “paradox” of the chicken and the egg.

if we (arbitrarily) cleave the continuum such that being x-q-t (not, say, x-q-r or x-q-s)
is necessary and sufficient for being a chicken, and if no post-hatch mutation can spark
a species change, say, from x-q-s to x-q-t, the chicken egg came before the chicken

Or take his jab at the Judeo-Christian ideology.

when you find yourself sick of your possessive-controlling way (“No one but me!”)
and for using guilt and threats to keep loved one’s (“You owe me for saving you!”),
you cannot but wonder if the “God” after whom you model yourself is really the devil

Or take his mockery of cultural appropriation being made an extreme taboo.

the proscription against cultural appropriation looming
overhead like a scythe, from extraterrestrial intelligences
what might we ever hope to learn in good conscience?

Or take his call for the persecuted to take more serious action.

kneeling in protest against the continual persecution of a marginal group
does not go far enough if the persecutors, and those whom they benefit
(so often Leave-it-to-Beaver types), hold that such kneeling goes too far

Or take Istvan’s interaction with the Emersonian wisdom that it is foolish to place your hope for substantial self-change in changing of the external conditions.

hoping that a change in external circ*mstance can draw you up to a better life
may seem no better than hoping that you can draw yourself up by the bootstraps,
but a new circ*mstance might wind up a magnet to the iron filings that you are

Or take Istvan’s musings on material collocation.

squishing seems to destroy the fragile sculpture butnot
its durable quantum of clay, suggesting two objects—
two—were perfectly collocated before the squishing

Or take Istvan’s case for the importance of a humanities education for everyone, even for those in STEM fields.

just as vaccines, wherein dwell frail forms of the disease, train immune systems to face
the full-bodied thing, literary experiences, wherein we grow invested in diverse fates,
train empathy systems to hold in mind that there is a what-it-is-like-to-be the other

Or take Istvan’s way of ridiculing the radical pragmatism with which American students often enter the philosophy classroom.

the big settlement you are attempting to win
itself proves to the court that you were hit
if an idea being useful proves its truth

Or take Istvan’s ridicule of the dysfunction that is the US education system.

were it not bad enough that obvious satire gets
misconstrued,many read—honest-to-God—
“if x, then y” as an endorsem*nt of x being true

Or take the evenhanded way in which Istvan at once celebrates and teases humans for being so existentially frail that it is hard for them to stop behaving as if the shams they know to be shams were not shams.

although all know it is a charade (Korean public weeping, WWE wrestling, sometimes
love conduct in marriage), the charade is vital to maintain—at least because it is an art
in which we find our forte-purpose and that, made habitual, nests our lives in stability

Or take how he spotlights our alienation from death.

we used to thank God that we were there
to prepare the body for burial with our own hands,
and yet now we thank God for the opposite

Or take the condensed and often sardonic ways in which Istvan, following in the footsteps of Spinoza and Nietzsche, celebrates reality-nature and defends it against the blasphemies of pessimists and supernaturalists.

reality being all there is, if there were any reality
to the original sin, it would amount to construing
the original sin as our being real in the first place

that artists cede themselves to works forged from errors in which they place utter faith
does not demand despondence about those works (or about life): those works amount
at least to a performative biography testifying to the farcical fallibility of our condition

spirituality has been coopted by supernaturalists,
blasphemers of nature: through music, meditation,
we do not lose ourselves beyond nature, the whole

psychedelic art shares a fractal-paisley vibe of neon bustle but, rather than chalk it up
to a shared structure in the drugs or their takers, some—even aware that we see aliens
as almond-headed due to Hollywood—assume the artists visited a shared supernature

just because it expands the horizon of reality does not mean it is supernatural

Chinese fortune cookies can be quite powerful
for meaning-finding creatures like us—
but that does not imply anything supernatural

spirituality has been coopted by supernaturalists,
blasphemers of nature: through music, meditation,
we do not lose ourselves beyond nature, the whole

no one would notice were the daily horoscopes swapped
(Taurus for Libra and the like), but that does not mean
there is no magic in it: our finding relevance is the magic

seeing the mechanism should heighten the magic!

nocturnal eyes bulging green
need not be something beyond
mere owl eyes to be magical

it is no fun performing magic
for people who really believe in magic—
unless you then show them the trick!

feeling death in the room before even checking the body
is your sensing the absence of the usual breaths and motions—
and that, despite complaints by the superstitious, is magic enough

magick-with-a-k candles sold to bring wealth

sincerely buying that he is a true magician, he transforms
the prison cell into his chosen dwelling by concocting
why it would be wrong to cast the freeing spell

to be startled by a sudden wind through the grasses—
that is a real, and much more magical, case
of remembering what we were before we were born

“wait wait—midgets don’t have magical powers?”

are albino fingers really magical?

the ego trap of faith in your magical power

the real magic is making it seem that you are levitating

Each stand-alone micro-stanza (cut off, like each of us, from completion and ultimate meaning), each shard of the contemporary world, each flash of what often seems discontinued narrative, spirals forward to the next in unforeseen ways, exalting its subject matter and enriching the reader (even when it invokes great discomfort and sadness). Eachmonad, each tessera, each animalcule takes on a propulsive life of its own, seemingly without an ultimate origin or destination—evolving in interaction with the other solitary Schlegelian hedgehogs performing with the other Wagnerian fleas. The result is a transhistorical and transcultural epic poem of leaps and splices, a nonlinear and associative archipelago, accrued from dissociated island-elements—often aphoristic and epigrammatic in the spirit of the Stoics—possessing the vitality of lyric poetry, but almost too profound and pointed for song. The result, in other words, is the close analogue to a painting where the eye has no one place to settle: a poem where the mind has—so it at least may seem—no one place to latch onto. What is strange, though, is that MFYM manages to cut to the heart of each point even as it circumnavigates those very points. The main drawback is that good thoughts cluster so tightly that they can conceal one another.

However lucid each solitary microcosm is, and however much each elucidates the rest, one runs into difficulty in seeing the total design, the one in the many. Each is a gay experiment, reflecting such a courageous openness to questioning that each puts one another into question. It is possible to see MFYM, for these reasons, as a decadent chaos of elements moving in staccato fashion without overall cohesion (rather than as coordinated structure where each element is integrated into the life of the whole). Similar (for better or for worse) to the written lines in Van Halen’s music video for “Right Now,” one could read this as one plays a record (skipping track to track). The chronological misordering of the five sections—from section 5 (2020) to section 3 (2018) to section 1 (2016) to section 2 (2017) to section 4 (2019)—invites such frolicking. If only because of the human knack for finding patterns, spotting faces, finding connections and crafting storylines between what is juxtaposed, one would still get the feel, however, that each stanza builds upon the others.

Some stanzas relate in obvious ways. For instance, take those spot-on stanzas concerning how celebrities have a look in common with what to an undiscerning eye would seem utterly alien.

Meg Ryan
face injections
Dennis Avener

one mouth, two people—
James Earl Jones,
Sigourney Weaver

Cameron Diaz in Annie
Pit, Pat, Pot, or Holler
David the Gnome

Some stanzas build on one another in obvious ways. For instance, separated many pages apart from each other are the following two stanzas. (1) “is five dollars for a splinter of the cross a good deal?” (2) “five dollars for a splinter of the cross, / while from one viewpoint too good to be true, / is a complete rip-off from another.” Many of the stanzas also provide clues, sometimes direct, as to how they might be interpreted. For example, in one place we get: “pain meds more for the observers than the IVed dying.” And then in another we get: “drugging the dying so that onlookers / see a more peaceful end, not one/ that will haunt their time until their time.”

Close readers may get the feel that even distantly separated stanzas were once united as one larger poem now deconstructed. Take, for instance, the scattered stanzas concerning soldiers having returned from war, which themselves are but moieties of a larger picture about war.

exiting their terminals, the combat soldiers are nauseated
to find, as if for the first time, that their families, holding out
signs and flowers and babies, are nothing but quivering meat

returning home from having had to rub out even children soldiers,
most likely he can barely stand the “Welcome home, hero” banners,
let alone the crayon stick figures of him mowing down the bad guys

cheering the returning vets as if they have just won
the big game—ever think that that, and the mindset
that is its radix, deepens the trauma and alienation?

if your “hero” so deserves the highest honor, why
do you shut him down from getting off his chest
the children he had to run over to avoid ambush?

protecting your brothers in war
only to come back to emptiness
on line at the supermarket

war medals to encourage
future valor in others more
than to honor the recipients

all these begging veterans,
limbless, obliterating
the next wave of soldiers

hard it is to find a veteran
who is not the State’s victim
precisely by being a veteran

fireworks riling up veteran PTSD

the need to believe that your service overseas was not for nothing (by which you mean
it was to protect our freedom) has you tear into every naysayer and equivocate even
to yourself: holding that simply the brotherhood you found shows it was not for nothing

Or take, for another example, the scattered stanzas concerning anthropic reasoning.

the anthropic absurdity of saying “the universe we observe obtains because otherwise
we would not be here” is cured by setting an underscored “that” before “the universe”
and an “is” before “because”: our being explains that, not why, the universe obtains

you expect to observe as an observer in any universe
that it is conducive at least to the line of suffering
that led to you, a child suffering with terminal leukemia

we would not have been (or not have hit the lotto or so on) had there been
even minor alteration of the contributing circ*mstances, but what is minor
is relative: a different shirt the day the numbers were played is quite major

for you alone to win the mega-lottery, circ*mstances had to be
fine-tuned: within that specific week and nation you had to be
the only one to play those numbers—and so this was designed?

people falling into the “normal” blood range
or universes falling into the “fine-tuned” range
does not mean they fall into the ideal (range)

Or take the scattered stanzas on how best to characterize the Godhead and our relationship to it. Here are just a few of the hundreds of examples.

is anyone ready for all of this—
even God, thrown into this
by his very definition?

if unconditioned, the buckstopping source must be unconditioning
because were it to condition things it would thereby be conditioned
by that which it conditions—the source is, instead, self-conditioned!

if uncaused, the buckstopping source would be drawn from nonbeing,
eternally thrown into being out of that from which nothing comes:
philosophical nothingness—the source is, instead, self-caused!

if God exists by the necessity of his own nature and exists
for us to be, then to it as well as to one another we are closer
than we might imagine: we are its immanent exudations

pushing aside the feeble otherness and so feeble community within their triune God—
to say that a unitarian God, Allah, makes a globe of persons to enable love and sharing
is not to say that it is incomplete in itself: Allah, after all, is sole source of those persons

“a god all mercy is a god unjust”
only if that god fails to be
the buckstopping source of it all

coextensive like trilateral-triangular, not like renate-chordate (so not really distinct);
coextensive by the internal fiat of each person being self-generated (so not really one);
coextensive by an external fiat (so not really God)—what other option for the Trinity?

the god of love has traditionally been understood in the abusive-spouse way:
purifying fire, he is for you even in being so savagely against everything you stand for,
ready to unleash unimaginable brutalities, but not for the sad*stic reason imagined

so as not to tempt them to tritheism it is wise for God not to reveal that he is a trinity
to those unaware of monotheism; but what excuse is there for Jesus’s failure to teach
Jews—devoted monotheists—of their ingrained mistake in worshipping just one person?

everything that happens testifies to the glory of God,
even the blasphemy of believing and preaching
that some things—rape, dirt, slavery—fail to

if God creates from eternity not just himself but everything
(including each of our actions), then there is no contradiction
in saying that God is unchangeable and yet responsive to us

if by its own necessity the absolutely infinite must itself be more than two persons,
centers of consciousness, so that each has a partner to love and (to avoid selfishness)
a partner to be loved by other than itself, it must be (by its infinitude) more than three

if the pinnacle of power is self-torture (resisting especially the urge to protect oneself),
then we have a new theodicy: the All-Powerful allows innocents to suffer gratuitously
since—being also Pure Love—witnessing that suffering is the pinnacle of self-torture

Or take the following stanzas concerning the purposes, dangers, and historically-insensitive graveness surrounding taboos.

understand that there were cultural epochs where a penis was no more taboo,
no more empowered with magic, than an elbow—and the girls who tugged until
penny-payers shot “curdled milk” suffered no trauma even beneath their giggles

the taboo on erotic affairs with youths has made them shameful pursuits of secrecy
centered on sex, both parties estranged from (even blind to) the apprenticeship—
the loving internship to excellence (ancient-Greek style)—that otherwise could be

similar to how the taboo on sex amplifies our craving, faith in free will may provide
the following adaptive advantage: it stokes rage against our biggest threat (other men)
into a blaze more rousing than that transient flame lit when an acorn hits our head

tabooing a private relationship merely because
the age-difference is sizeable is an overt sign
of a war against the development of the intellect

it is taboo to interfere in animal fights
even as our jeeps taint the very air
of the lions leaping for the giraffe

in a day where being used
is so taboo, worse is when
no one wants to use you

does society put a taboo on sexuality
to stop us from devoting so much time to it
or to keep us devoting so much time to it?

what is taboo to believe is what taboo-makers, lacking power
to control by direct force, worry might be true or worry others
might think true—truth-seekers are thereby called to test taboos

the direct line from a taboo on sex to freaky fetishes
to granting a body part as innocuous as an elbow the power
to traumatize someone to whom it is merely flashed

surrounded by black women,
cumming in hair is more taboo
than cumming in mouths

with the taboo against cultural appropriation looming,
what can we ever learn in good conscience
from extraterrestrial intelligences?

the taboo against masturbation is good for getting us out of the house

with so many taboos about what happens
in prison, it is hard to know what happens
to our loved ones on the inside

you watch so much taboo behavior
cease to be a disease, wondering
if you will die before yours does

pointing out that the rich are still
unhappy—what deeper taboo
can there be in a capitalist society?

Some stanzas even amount to multiple takes on the same point—perhaps so that they may stand, as Nietzsche puts it, on two legs.

Repetition. It is an excellent thing to express a thing consecutively in two ways, and thus provide it with a right and a left foot. Truth can stand indeed on one leg, but with two she will walk and complete her journey. (Wanderer and His Shadow 13)

Take, for instance, the scattered stanzas concerning the idea that hip-hop has long been considered threatening since it wears on it sleeve a fact that artists like to keep quiet about (wizard-of-Oz style): that art creation is not the out-of-thin-air miracle it is often construed to be.

that the anxiety of influence involves anxiety to keep the secret—namely, that no artist
is a fountainhead—explains early anxiety about hip-hop, whose originators created
via sampling and, naïve from their exclusion, knew not the task to keep the secret

the deepest reason why hip-hop was found so offensive
is that it unconcealed the arcanum: all things non-ultimate—
not just music but we ourselves—are born of sampling

Or take, finally, Istvan’s discussion of witch-hunts and particularly our tendency to oppose them by participating in them ourselves—sort of the same idea behind f*ck-the-system votes for the most absurd candidate.

as those in the eye of the Salem Witchcraft hysteria knew quite well,
repeated false allegations provide one of our only chances to snuff out
a biggest-victim-contest culture in which mere accusation means guilt

false allegations both started the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria
and—becoming widespread in sarcastic but serious protest
to the very fact that they were taken seriously at all—ended it

if your kind is the target of a witch-hunt,at one point
the urge will rise to expose the ridiculousness of the hunt
by making wild accusations too, accusing family even (Salem?)

combating a witch-hunt culture
by making accusations yourself:
the wilder the better, in fact

falsely accusing—in sleep-tight conscience—
those who fight against the hysteria of accusation,
since it is for the greater good, for all the true victims

accuse before you are accused: a Salem Witch strategy

that witchcraft hysteria had people killing loved ones
might help us fathom why the original disciples
staked their lives on the messiah-status of a felon

No doubt the barrage of unsystematic insights haphazardly scattered can leave readers with an overwhelmed feeling of having no place to grab ahold of. It can be frustrating not to understand where someone is coming from and what his allegiances are. Control freaks, those who find unbearable being unable to categorize others or “get a read on” others, will find MFYM as torture. For to penetrate the heart of Istvan through MFYM, readers themselves must reduce complexities down to certain elements (elements reflecting their own interests and alliances) after putting the stanzas in what they determine to be the proper order. Were Istvan’s goal for readers to understand him, these required efforts—although perhaps a good exercise—would be unfair to most readers. An educated man, that cannot be Istvan’s goal. His goal, as perhaps anyone sociable enough to have cultivated a baseline sense of charity would understand, is to reveal merely the insights, not himself. To dispel one of MFYM’s major flaws, then, all we need to do is change our expectation. Hard as such a reframing might be in a world of me me me, Istvan is shining a light on images and inconsistencies and ideas, not on himself.

One might still try to press the point even after a correct understanding of Istvan’s goal. The way in which the sayings of MFYM are seemingly haphazardly scattered, which lends it more of an air of Pascal’s Pensées or Confucius’s Analects or Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus, frustrates the systematic coverage we expect of a treatise, where a theme is not mentioned out of the blue and then dropped out of the blue only to appear later again out of the blue. Might Istvan be undercutting the force that his thoughts on a certain theme might have had were they serried? Perhaps on some occasions. But there might be something to say for the separation. First, just as the cold voice of a disinterested reporter can prevent a poem from tipping over into sentimentality, the broken order prevents MFYM—clearly serious about rigor and clarity and true depth—from conflicting too drastically with the contemporary penchant for nonsense poetry that, in sounding so deep, provokes readers to project “their truths” onto it. Second, the separation creates the effect of multiple flybys, in which case the reader is able to see the same theme not just in one hit but again and again from different angles. Through novelty-diminishing repetition that diminishes the possibility of being distracted by the generic content of the theme itself, MFYM creates a clearing in which the differences in the repetitions can stand forth to such an extent that even unrefined readers hear not only the call of its nuances but also the call to cultivate an appreciation for nuance.

Despite the gaps between themes, despite the fact that one could seemingly bounce around arbitrarily between nodes of the great network that it is (even strip-mining it for what one already takes to be important rather than letting it open our vistas), MFYM seems to me designed as one poem, one song devoted not just to loving, but to savoring, reality and living well as modes of it. MFYM ever roils, yes. And, as is clear when zoomed in upon, frequently flares. But for me the whole takes on the brute calm of the sun.

The gaps between themes, the fact that one could seemingly bounce around arbitrarily between nodes of the great network that it is (even strip-mining it for what one already takes to be important rather than letting it open our vistas), might make MFYM seem more like a mereological heap than an organic whole, a patchwork of disparate parts rather a unity pervaded by one spirit. But while it might have the superficial look of a mere conglomeration of erratic fragments that fail to progress toward a meaningful endpoint, to me MFYM—even if failing to serve some specified pragmatic goal, which would make it a desoeuvre more so than an oeuvre—still seems designed as one poem. One soul seems to be pervade each stanza. MFYM, as I see it, is one song devoted not just to loving, but to savoring, reality and living well as modes of it. MFYM ever roils, yes. And, as is clear when zoomed in upon, frequently flares in capricious ways. But for me the whole takes on the brute calm of the sun. (Now, if it is a stretch to find a positive soul in MFYM of love for life, in backpedaling defense I could always just pull the trump card of saying it at least has a soul in the minimal sense of capturing the fragmented nature of the contemporary world embodied especially in the Twitter scroll it superficially resembles.)

Running through the whole, yes, is a certain “character,” we might say—a character of wise sublimity ever ready to show appreciation for the sublime (beauty and terror). Is it possible, however, to locate the glue that holds the grand orchestra together, the principle uniting all these elements and avenues of interest, in some specialized theme or lesson? I am unsure. But each fossil-germ, each distillation of the sprawl of human complexity, does seem to illuminate a greater unsaid—unpinpointed—system, as if either a remnant of some past unity, some Greek temple now in rubble, that the reader must reconstruct or a brick for some future unity, some futuristic space architecture, that the reader must use to construct.

Such reconstruction is operative often times with individual stanzas. As if responding to someone, Istvan says, for example, “but mocking the gator is how some bring themselves to cross the river.” The use of “but” pushes the reader to imagine what the remark to which he is responding could have been, which is rather easy in this case. It is a well-known proverb, found in cultures where the alligator looms large, not to insult the alligator until after the stream has been traversed. Istvan is making the psychological point, one that itself looms large throughout MFYM, that self-delusion is so crucial for human action and growth. The same story applies to the following stanza.

however, if squirrels come to us after sitting in the forest long enough,
perhaps addressing the snake with a deferential title (“lord” or “Mr.”)
may ease your own anxiety and so lower your threat and chance of being bit

It seems as if Istvan is replying to someone who says that a snake is going to bite your ass even if you call it a nice name.

Further indicating the continuity of the whole, there are several refrains ranging across “MFYM 1-5,” the central one being: “sometimes the subject is not to be centered in the viewfinder.” There are also various story-currents that develop, compressed enough for the reader to fill in the details with personal history. One of my favorites is that of the Chinese tutor who—in addition to conveying various politically incorrect morsels of wisdom (about how one should never trust “the painted man” or about how rubbing the heads of “dwarves” is good luck)—seems to be grooming her young male student, often in the singsong of pop culture, to engage in a sexual relationship with her.

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Michael, you should see what I can do with balloon”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Not mother, not friend: Mrs. Tong something never comprehend”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Dare do what other student too afraid do”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“In Mrs. Tong hour I can feel your power”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Mrs. Tong hide but Michael no seek”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Do Frozen: let go. No hold back anymore”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Swallow Mrs. Tong favorite bird”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Mrs. Tong is salad and she need some ranch dressing”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“Michael, you want to see what dragon eye look like?”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“What girl say now: beat it up, shove me around?”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“You see what man tiger do to woman at zoo?”

a tutor in the tone of a seductive dragon lady
tells her ten-year old student of Chinese:
“It not take rocket scientist to figure what Mrs. Tong like”

With the double aspect of Heracl*tean fire (ever-moving and yet a core that stays the same), one gets the feel that the mosaic-song that is MFYM—an turbulent record of thoughts and experiences and fantasies—could go on forever, pulsing with the rhythm of waves hitting the shore: sometimes light and in quick succession, sometimes heavy and far apart. To appreciate the continuity, the coherence, one is advised not to go in looking for it. MFYM will become something to muscle through if one is impatient to see where it is going. Appreciate each wave on its own, rather than anxiously—irascibly—jumping to the next to catch hold of some overarching message.

MFYM does not refuse cursory readings. Indeed, an interesting force pops out of the whole, especially while reading out loud, simply hurrying through the stanzas one after the other with little pause between. That said, MFYM is best read in undistracted meditation appropriate to the time Istvan spent foraging each word and whittling scenarios down to their core. All the blank space, coupled with the lack of elements drawing readers quickly through the pages (plot and sustained characters), invite us to pause and ponder. Each entry—even the whimsical ones that come of as light literature—contains a seed of contemplation, capturing moments of deep introspection, acute observation, irony, and various facets of the human experience. Only slow re-readings—real work, maximal engagement, with mental doors open—can unravel the plutonic depths of insight in even the most crystalline of nuggets, the more expository of which can be considered abbreviated treatises. The many mystical fragments, such as the two unabashedly life-affirming ones that follow, make this especially clear.

reality being all there is, if there were any reality
to the original sin, it would amount to construing
the original sin as our being real in the first place

to feel impeded precisely in being
what you are is to recognize being
the One itself, albeit in but one mode

Such stanzas not only call out for readings that unearth their profundities, but teach the reader—through cadence and suggestive line breaks—how to read them in such a way as to unearth their profundities.

Direct address is one of the ways that MFYM draws the reader in to do that real work. Istvan is enamored of the second-person point of view. The prevalence of that point of view makes it seem as if he is writing for you, for you—sometimes even, only for you: saying the things you yourself feel and, like a friend close enough rarely to moralize or demand, highlighting how fresh you would find the air, how proud you would be of yourself, were you to break out of old patterns of behaving and seeing. Some of these lines literally ask personal questions that you feel compelled to answer. Take, for instance, the following stanza, which also illustrates Istvan’s Heracl*tean interest in apparent paradox.

the parts between the big events that make
life worth living—how do you resolve
the ambiguity of these words?

Is it only the big events that make life worth living? Or do the smaller parts between them do so? Now, even when MFYM gives direct advice, that advice might be contradicted elsewhere. The idea seems to be that different students, or the same students at different stages in their lives, might need different advice. It is hard to shake the idea that MFYM is written as if exclusively for you. It is easy to imagine, for that reason, that it will lend itself to diverse, even competing, interpretations.

Istvan is clear enough as a writer even when the surface language seems paradoxical and esoteric, and this is what makes MFYM satisfying both for those interested in writing that has no covers and for those interested in writings with covers upon covers. Just as one can gather what Pascal means when he says that “If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have been different,” and just as one can solve the apparent contradiction in the AA slogan “One drink was to many but ten was not enough,” one can almost always sense what Istvan is getting at with some thought. That is true even in the various riddles strewn throughout MFYM. Take the following riddles, for instance. Both serve to do what most of the stanzas in MFYM do: defamiliarize the familiar so that we can see the familiar (whether it be an iceberg, the sun, a vagin*, history, death or whatever) as if for the first time.

x’s son, which literally makes waves, is x’s father, and most of x—often
immense—remains hidden, which is why x—white, often blue-tinged—
has become such an infamous threat even to the most titanic sea vessels

darkening bodies without touching them (even making their building blocks replicate
to the point of killing them), x will engulf what remains of us (a literal apocalypse)—
and yet, as the enlivener of plant and animal alike, you ask why we deified x so long?

Chinese ones are not really sideways, but Indian ones often taste of curry; x can rock
a Hitler stache with no shame; molds of this mussel are called “toys”; nose-mouthfuls
of its fluids upon our entering the world might curb asthma, allergies, immune disease

since x “repeats,” we need know only a little of x (if knowing matters) to help ensure
x does not repeat; the totality of any slice of x ensures, and so harbors, each later slice;
look into x from far away and many incompatibilities between old lovers go invisible

subjectively indiscernible to the annihilation of the cosmos and so—
if anything about it is worth our fear—only the transition to it is;
most will do the worst to avoid it (even though we know none of us can)

Istvan’s aphoristic approach pushes the reader, in addition, to find meaning in a more substantial way: let the forces in your own life animate what is being said, even if in ways that Istvan does not intend. Istvan, therefore, leaves ambiguous the referent of the word “others” in the following stanza, allowing the reader to fill in whether it means other areas or other people or both.

patience in one area may drain patience from others

This goes some way to explaining why it seems that Istvan speaks directly to you, as if he were in your head and writing from your heart—as if, disconcerting as it may be, he were aware of your private secrets and shortcomings and even those occasions that your families try to put out of mind: when you were on your most disgusting behavior. How does he know?” you will ask—sometimes with the bonding feeling of having been recognized and other times with the rancorous feeling of having been spied upon.

Istvan does invite many interpretations—and at each of the proverbial levels: literal-historical, ethical, allegorical, analogical. It is not as if any interpretation goes, however. Misinterpretation—or, if you will, bad misinterpretation—seems possible. Since gaiety is the ultimate arche of his lines, it is likely that any all-too-serious, any nothing-but grave, approach to reading Istvan would get him wrong. Even in cases where Istvan describes circ*mstances, events, and thoughts that he finds repugnant (Amway seminars, anti-hom*osexual justifications, half-baked conspiracies from those all-too-desperate to feel wise and important, how easily aggrieved students of the well-to-do West are), joy is evident in his descriptions (as if such circ*mstances, events, and thoughts are almost seen as loveable in their poetic rendering). Joyous reverence is present in the very fact that it took power to describe. But more than that, there is joy in that Istvan finds these things funny, however against them he may be. These things make humans interesting—interesting in their ridiculousness. Indeed, one gets the feeling that he would have these things be more revolting and pathetic—even more pop-inspirational songs from the 80s in the Amway seminar, for example—to increase the humor. In short, one gets the feeling that Istvan is more an instigator than a revolutionary (but that also through instigation pain is transfigured). Or perhaps it is better to say that, first and foremost for a good laugh, he carries out a project of revolution by encouraging what he is against: encouraging Amway seminars of greater size and gaudiness and cheesiness; encouraging more wild and insistent antigay justifications; encouraging conspiracy theories to up their level of ridiculousness. To be sure, this might be a coping mechanism. Why let these things work you up, stress you out in your rage against them? Even so, this mechanism seems effective at yielding change. Let us continue the thought, then.Why let these things work you up, stress you out in your rage against them, when you can encourage them to rise to such hilarious heights of ridiculousness that they are likely to crumble—a second hilarity—under their own bulk?

Because of the love it shows even to that which it seems to oppose, MFYM is open to misinterpretation. Take the following stanza, for instance.

at the feet of the great pimps you learn
to cut women off from all but you
and mix beatings with effusive love

When it comes to this shrewd stanza, there is not much to elaborate for native English speakers. The syntax is straightforward. The words are all accessible: no isms, no jargon. There are no arcane allusions to antiquated mythologies: “Oh, the furry legs of Arachne, doomed ever to weave weave weave!” But even so, uncharitable readers at least might be prone to read this as celebration or advocacy of pimp behavior. But just as Van Gogh zooms into the peasant way of life by way of depicting threadbare peasant shoes, or just as Eric Taylor zooms into the Nazi-concentration-camp way of life by depicting a living skeleton on a gurney, Istvan zooms into the pimping way of life by depicting what an apprentice might learn from a successful pimp. Among many other things, what he might learn would be the following. (1) Cut the woman off from family and friends, cult-leader style. Alienated, she will have no escape route and will be surrounded only by people who behave as if the pimping life is normal. (2) Beat her—mentally, emotionally, and physically would be best—so that she knows her place and is afraid to leave. At the same time, however, show her effusive love—and, of course, really good sex—so that, despite her fear, she can hope for those times of love and even convince herself that the pimp really does love her. Cut off from the world at large, nowhere to turn, beaten into a fearful state, she—longing for love like a beaten dog—will cling even to her pimp’s twisted love, perhaps even convincing herself that, after one particularly effusive show of love, she will not be beaten again. And then then cycle continues. Istvan, in short, is merely painting a picture (from the sheets to the streets, so to say). By letting the picture be without talking it to death, the risk is that people might walk away with horrible interpretations that reflect themselves more than the actual depiction.

While it would perhaps be impossible for it to intoxicate us into a disindividuated frenzy in the way that music can, MFYM does at least siren us to affirm and (as if, in a sense, we could ever not) surrender to the roaring flow of reality despite how much suffering it causes us miniscule creatures who never asked to be thrown into this like this. It seems right, therefore, to place MFYM alongside the works of Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère, and Fontenelle—works that rise above, so Nietzsche tells us, the local and evanescent news and ideas of the day.

Their books are raised above all changes of national taste and philosophical nuances from which as a rule every book takes and must take its hue in order to become famous. They contain more real ideas than all the books of the German philosophers put together: ideas of the sort that breed ideas. . . . [T]hey appear to me writers who wrote neither for children nor for visionaries, neither for virgins nor for Christians. . . . To praise them in plain terms, I may say that had they been written in Greek, they would have been understood by Greeks. (Wanderer and His Shadow 214)

Looked at more modestly, MFYM at least serves as a poetic diagnostic tool for revealing what Nietzsche’s supposition of the eternal return of the same does: whether the reader is a life-scorner or a life-affirmer. If you appreciate each nugget and want more as you go, that suggests acceptance of life. For this is about life (from the most mundane to the most profound and profane) and it proceeds, one thing after the other, just as does life. On the other hand, if you find yourself feeling “What is the point of each observation?,” “Why would one take the time to write them down as if they were so precious?,” “When will this barrage end?,” “Enough of this already!,” that suggests animosity for life—a will to nothingness, a drive to be done with the hellish on and on.

In light of MFYM’s repeated chant of fierce affirmation (“Existenz über alles!”), and in light of the fact that its author cannot stop adding to it, it seems clear that MFYM itself falls on the side of celebration. If we are to isolate a theme below the farrago, a theme at least in the musical sense of that which serves as the common ground of all variation and development, it would be uncompromising life-affirmation—uncompromising even while refusing to shout down or cancel even the most uncomfortable data. As the right hemisphere picks up soon into reading MFYM, there is an underlying principle, in effect, of love (even for the things—the cancer, the Lyme disease, the cancel culture—Istvan rails against). When Istvan says “mate poachers” or “dusty vacuums,” for example, one gets the sense that he has simply left out preceding phrases such as “blessed be the" or “yay for the" or “holy are the” or so on. The theme of uncompromising affirmation marks MFYM, no exaggeration, as diametrically opposed to the spirit of the day. It might be hard for any later readers to understand how true this is, but the spirit of the day is downright demonic. So set on squelching any source of discomfort (the necessary condition for flourishing) that everyone is hooked on pain meds and social-media dopamine, so set on removing all sources of discomfort that teachers are terminated for mentioning that slavery occurred or for teaching the Chinese word for “um” (since it sounds like the n-word), the spirit of the day is at root hatred for life. What is craved deep down—under our local moves to avoid being triggered (couple, monstrously, with our nonstop lowering of the bar as to what it takes for us to be triggered)—is that we were never born or, second best (and evident in our nonstop consumption of apocalypse movies), that we get obliterated now rather than later (but painlessly, of course). MFYM, exuding the very Shakespearean exuberance that the Earth-repudiating Tolstoy found repulsive, is battling a juggernaut whose presence is palpable, to some degree at least, throughout human history.

Let us get into the work, however. “If you mean to know yourself,” we can say with Johann Kaspar Lavater, “interline such of these aphorisms as affect you agreeably in reading, and set a mark to such as left a sense of uneasiness with you; and then show your copy to whom you please.” I will close with a few that I have marked. As perhaps should be clear in these, the optimism advocated in MFYM—although unbridled—is hard won. And as should also be clear, MFYM—in the highest degree eloquent, intense, provocative in thought, and fertile in suggestion—has the power to elevate our taste and intellect while also kindling a sense of universal compassion and metaphysical security.

failing on the path that was itself the compromise
drives home how dumb it was to have gone down it,
but only in a sense: there is still time to alchemize it

that the dead haunt the living is one thing, but even
more disturbing is that they are reduced to doing so
merely by making doll eyes blink for night janitors

she has budded enough that you feel
uneasy with the old talk to her parents
of how their hands will soon be full

reunions—high school, sitcom,
whatever—to learn how
your other selves are doing

the present thief that is
lust for the future
often makes hell bearable

deliverymen taking that shame walk
through the house party of drunks
geared up to taunt and humiliate

monsters inside us can have us act in ways that engender
ghosts inside us—and certain ghosts can be so haunting
that the only daylight respite is to give in to our monsters

his hiding behind your daughter’s legs, having seen bald scalp through the back
of your bandana, can lesson your pain—for it shows you are not the center—
or it can make your pain more intolerable—for it shows you are not the center

black actors playing streetball
awkwardly to get some practice
for the only film roles available

her toddler mimicking
her choking sounds—
material for a demon

enough mushrooms to commune with what you feel
is the buzzing life force of a tree, but what is in truth
just the drone of high volt power lines above that tree

pubic lice habitats annihilated by internet p*rn

a slavered ear whisper fractured
by systolic thumps from within
you both: “You’re all grown up”

our avatars, our selfied selves, our ideas, our beliefs
are crammed together in various cyber spaces as our bodies
are cordoned off from one another like never before

time and space are not only measured in years and inches,
or whatever—they can have a qualitative aspect: that spell
of dating her, kissing in the car muffled with blizzard snow

with pathetic plosives, a young boy battles
plastic figurines from the film coming soon
as puff-eyed parents, bedside, pray for time

multicolored to the envy of others in the clan,
jasper in the early humanoid axe—despite being
knowingly inferior for chopping—had its utility

we conceal things (such as the mouth) to focus
elsewhere (the eyes), and with concealment total
(the niqab) the focus is sexiest: the imagination

a new generation too scared of bugs to preserve the indigenous tradition

spotlights now on the chess prodigy,
moves are made less from intuition
and more from stuttered reflection

convincing yourself that her beauty runs deep despite
her shoe addiction, her intense makeup, and even
her sending fan mail to the lead singer of a boyband

not even snailing down with the nudges of broken-rhythm faucet-blasts,
the oyster-loogie clings to the drain’s metal rim and, if not unrooted now
by a finger or something, tomorrow it will be crisp, more rooted than ever

the first time having sex since his wife was raped, instead of feeling
emasculated and going soft, he found himself excited, full of blood
at the thought that this puss* was violated so: “You f*ckin’ slu*t!”

the clammy white boy neared the preteen and, when she agreed by backing into him,
he pumped the primal rhythm at her ass in a time that might have counted somewhere
around double were it actually synced to the beat—his cousin laughing “Go Mikey!”

widespread meth, plus widespread unemployment, makes for killer daytime TV

solicitors audacious enough to be offended when you answer the door naked

that precious peace when the household tyrant is still asleep

refugees in violent disagreement
on an indefinite road concerning
how to make the staple dish

being aware of being covered—indeed, being made
more or less—of the blood of those who diedfor you
does not have to make leaving bed so burdensome

you keep your dog locked away
from sex, but refuse to relieve it
with at least a clinical hand job?

a first step in at least living
symbiotically with depression
is not taking it personally

deny being in denial and the one
charging you with being in denial
nods in quiet self-satisfaction

the mind might spread beyond its body, as in when a memory-poor person leaves
post-it-notes around as reminders—yes, such notes merely trigger him to think and do
certain things, but other parts of what we already consider the mind only do that too

although all know it is a charade (Korean public weeping, WWE wrestling, sometimes
love conduct in marriage), the charade is vital to maintain—at least because it is an art
in which we find our forte-purpose and that, made habitual, nests our lives in stability

the shut-in senses that jolt experiences (LSD, dispute, injury, intimacy) will carry him
beyond his barbican—and he might even sense that his avoidance has lowered the bar
on what counts as a jolt experience, such that his stronghold is now more accessible

not only do the ripples we are and make—themselves a function of ripples—extend
indefinitely, we are immortal in that we never stop being virtual modes of being itself
and in that we are necessitated by a necessary source and so are eternal in actuality

seeing the experience through the other’s eyes may have us—especially if concerned
with how we appear in those eyes—doing with the other even what we would never do
otherwise: from tea parties with our daughter to the very sex that made them possible

ignoring the tinkering slog behind great works and instead seeing them as miracle-gifts
of the muse, our indolence and insecurity justify not just our failure to strive for heights
that otherwise would crush us with envy, but also our hope for a chance to be raptured

even if they patrol with guns to ensure riots do not level their city, they patrol as well
for the vitalizing prospect of righteous massacre with friends to whom, in a saturnalia
for which football is a feeble surrogate, they will be as indifferent as to their own lives

pissed that your friend brings side girls around since, despite getting not even
a hand job for the trouble, it forces you to confront soul-searching questions
and the threat of having to help him juggle for his wife stories you might botch

attempting to normalize, and apportion blame for,
the drunken abuse of the stepchild in process
by high-fiving your biological son between blows

confronting old beef at a funeral,
taunting and squaring up even
right above the ditch

the Pulitzer poet told the crowd of undergrads there for extra credit to put pens away
and later when she said a certain question did not “merit an answer,” a male professor,
in spite of her blackness, stood up: “The student deserves an answer: you were paid”

A brahmin but with healthy instincts of love for the body (exercise and diet and challenges and suffering over SSRIs and suicide), Istvan—poet, thinker, essayist, comedian, mystic rolled in one—seems to be one of Nietzsche's philosophers of the future. And MFYM—reawakening the Spinozistic vision instead of doing no more than hysterically recounting the miseries of postmodernity—might just be one of the key holy texts for our splintered age.

M. A. Istvan Jr. / Venerando Velilla

Austin, TX / Poughkeepsie, NY (2020)

Foreword to Made for You and Me (4)


Foreword to Made for You and Me (5)

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“We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”—Kafka (against the safe-space cancel culture pushed by anti-art bullies, left and right)

Foreword to Made for You and Me (2024)


What do you write in a foreword? ›

A foreword is written by someone other than the author and tells the readers why they should read the book. A preface is written by the author and tells readers how and why the book came into being. An introduction introduces readers to the main topics of the manuscript and prepares readers for what they can expect.

How do you ask someone to write a foreword for your book? ›

When you approach the person you want to write your foreword, let them know:
  1. Why you chose them to write a foreword. ...
  2. Why you feel they are the right person for your book. ...
  3. That you appreciate they are busy. ...
  4. That, if they wish, you could get a verbal foreword.
Oct 29, 2018

What should a forward include? ›

Forewords are typically written as an address to the reader. The foreword author explains why they're writing it (personal connection, professional interest, etc) and why you should be interested in reading this book. This is also why forewords aren't required.

What is the structure of a foreword? ›

A foreword is formatted much the same as a regular chapter, but there can often be a few key differences, such as: The foreword uses less ornamentation such as larger first letters. The first paragraph is usually not indented. The title of the foreword is usually just “Foreword”

What comes first, a foreword or an introduction? ›

Foreword: This comes before all other content in the book. It isn't written by the Author. Most Authors don't need one. Preface: This comes after the foreword and before the introduction.

What is a personal foreword? ›

A foreword is usually written by someone other than the author and it gives information about the critical reception of the book, personal history of the author, or some other extra detail of interest to the reader.

What is the purpose of the foreword? ›

A foreword is a piece of writing that serves to introduce the reader to the author and the book, usually written by someone who is not the author or an editor of the book. They can also serve as a sort of endorsem*nt for the book.

How long should a foreword be? ›

Only rarely should a foreword exceed 500 words. If it's over that, it needs to be exceptionally good. The mention of the foreword author on the cover is enough to confer status and credibility, and any more than 500 words may detract or distract from the book itself.

How do you get someone to write a book for you? ›

You can find good ghostwriters by searching the web, or by looking for them on freelance marketplaces like Fiverr. If you're using a marketplace, check ghostwriters' profiles for ratings, reviews, and work samples. Then have a conversation to see if that ghostwriter is right for your project.

What is an example of forward? ›

Examples of forward in a Sentence

Adverb Her long hair fell forward as she bent to tie her shoes. He pushed the throttle forward. She took a small step forward. The narrative moves backward and forward in time.

What is an example of a forward in a book? ›

Example 1. In her first novel, The Bluest Eye, author Toni Morrison wrote a deeply insightful foreword that shares her feelings about the book, its inspiration, and its goals. Here is an excerpt: The origin of the novel lay in a conversation I had with a childhood friend.

What is the difference between forward and foreword? ›

Forward is typically an adverb or adjective meaning “in the direction in front of you.” It is usually used in relation to space, time, or progress. A foreword is an introduction to a book, usually by someone with a connection to the work or author (but not by the main author themselves).

What is a foreword note? ›

a short introductory statement in a published work, as a book, especially when written by someone other than the author.

What are sentences with the word foreword? ›

He wrote the book's foreword. There are some who say that books do not need forewords. The foreword by the two editors admits to a major problem with the collection.

What are the contents of a foreword? ›

A foreword is a piece of writing that serves to introduce the reader to the author and the book, usually written by someone who is not the author or an editor of the book. They can also serve as a sort of endorsem*nt for the book.

Do you get paid to write a foreword? ›

It is not common for someone who writes a foreword for a book to get paid, as it is usually considered an honor or a favor. However, in some cases, a monetary compensation may be negotiated, but it would be very minimal and it can vary greatly depending on the author, publisher, and the book's potential readership.

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