Joe Koch: Good Paper – from Convulsive: A Collection of Weird Tales


Unencumbered by obscene wealth, Warynne carved out a sunspot in a city that screamed with artificial light.

—Joe Koch, Convulsive

In a sense Joe Koch is an inventor of language, a creator of those hidden layers in-between the folds of poetry and linguistic evanescence. He churns the threads of the grotesque and weird, charming the natural tremors of silence and noise alike that shape us to the powers of darkness that touch the physical and sensual face of fear. In his tale Good Paper gathered in his new collection of tales Convulsive he offers us the fantastic life of Warynne, a young child whose world is part of the dark loam of our earthy needs touched by the insanity of civilization. 

Our troubled relation to the past, to the religious worlds of Bible, Christianity, and the everyday techniques of survival in a hostile world become in the hands of Koch a part of a tale of Mother love and madness. We find Warynne at the intersection of earth, sky, and highway sinking down roots in a world of darkness: “Under the incorrect blink of wrong colors crowding an alley, in the three a.m. silence that outlasted loud pairings, on the snow-crushed trash of a spring-thawed slope abreast a highway intersection, Warynne grew a thick, long taproot into the willing flesh of the earth. In sun, in bliss, in silence, they were alone.” The deep history of the ‘taproot’, this striking and rapping need to belong to the organic world, to sink one’s roots, one’s self into the darkness, to take root or discover something stable and unwavering to stay one against fear. Even the name of the child, Warynne enters this ancient lineage, part of the Old English words for “root” were wyrttruma and wyrtwala which seem to merge with this strangeness of a child seeking roots, a past, a memory of birth and death. One thinks of an old anonymous English poem, Richard of Almaigne – A ballad made by one of the adherents to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, soon after the battle of Lewes, which was fought May 14, 1264:

By God, that is aboven ous, he dude muche synne,
That lette passen over see the Erl of Warynne:
He hath robbed Engelond, the mores, ant th fenne,
The gold, ant the selver, and y-boren henne,
For love of Wyndesore.
Richard, thah thou he ever trichard,
Trichthen shalt thou never more.

We know that this name (“Warynne”) inspired realism, joyfulness and benevolence, a sense of charm and persuasiveness, a creature whose inner power of adventurousness and inventiveness would lead to a more fantastical sense of reality. The life lesson touches on this person understanding that their luck in health can run out so they should take care of themselves. Such are the traceries of etymology and history that roots us in the rapping memories of familial loam. 

Warynne runs into mysterious beings named the “hawkers” who seem to offer him Jesus and salvation, but he “held as still as a tree trunk, with hair like leaves that rustled in tangled gusts.” (9) This intermingling of the human and plant pervades the tale, tale of biological horror that roots us in biblical and natural imagery tying us to the ancient legend of heroic Samson whose long hair and strength, the love and betrayal of Delilah and the Philistines, the dark voluntary death and suicide all commingle in a convulsive tale of anguish.

This mingling of the sacred terror of Samson pulling down the pillars and the grotesquerie of Mother presents the absurdity and surrealist vision at the heart of this tale: “Mother said the bible was holy. Hers dwelled in her bedroom, tattered by triangles marking corners and leeching a smell from its leather binding like animal musk. Transparent tissue pages crackled like the potato chip bags hidden under her blankets.” This sensual delight in books, in the touch of paper, its smell and organic richness, the living ink that awakens from its pages a world, a separate realm. All this brings Warynne’s imaginal life into convulsion. The very notion of convulsion “to pull away, to pull this way and that, wrench,” seems to suggest a tearing from the earth, a sense of separation and violence, a plant that is torn out of its ancient habitat, out of the safety and security of the darkness. The darkness of the tale is not a fear, the fear is of light, of “artificial light” – the “sunspot” of the city. This being wrenched out of one’s comfort zone and thrust into the ruins and corruption of modern life, a place where such creatures as the “hawkers” dwell. This is the terror and the pain of life to which Warynne is subjected.  

We are made of language, it’s what creates us. My love of those deep roots that reach back into the darkness before we became human is the etymological loam of our native soil. Nietzsche before he swerved into philosophical speculation was teacher of philology which was for the Nineteenth century what the Linguistic turn was for the Twentieth Century. This tracing of the usages, transformations, mutations, metamorphoses of meaning through time offers us a glimpse onto this thing we’re becoming. Words were once rooted in earth and community, and now seem to have wandered into the abstract and unknow air of being. We’ve forgotten ourselves and are becoming something other than human, now. The carnival of sense and sound, the music of organic life: the motions of trees, the wind flowing through leaves, the speech of air, sky, and earth. We listen to rivers flow, the mountain snow crackle below our feet, the mossy touch of stone and dampness in a cave, the smell of pungent aromas from a sulfurous spring or the sweet odor of ripe melon. The laughter or tears of a child, and old woman rocking on an old porch singing and whispering and old tune. All the subtle hints of life and death, change and necessity, love and hate, jealousy and revenge… our lives as humans. This is the dark loam that Joe Koch catches in the dream nets of his tales. His words dig down into the physical earthy history of time, local, and place; bring us back to the ancestral worlds of our roots, tapping into the dark hinterlands of meaning and fear. 

I’ll stop here, not to spoil the tale for those who wish to read this wonderful series of stories in Joe Koch’s new collection: Convulsive.

Buy Convulsive on Apocalypse Party:


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