Excerpts from Paul Cunningham’s hybrid-genre manuscript, GOAL/TENDER MEAT/TENDER, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.

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paul-cunningham-author-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Cunningham founded Radioactive Moat Press in 2009. He is a former assistant editor of Action Books and currently works as an editor for Fanzine. He is the author of a chapbook of poems called GOAL/TENDER MEAT/TENDER (horse less press, 2015) and an e-chapbook, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Pangur Ban Party, 2010). His writing can be found in Bat City Review, LIT, Tarpaulin Sky, Spork, DIAGRAM, and others. His translation of Sara Tuss Efrik’s The Night’s Belly (Nattens Mage) was selected as a finalist in the 2015 Goodmorning Menagerie Chapbook-in-Translation contest. His poem-films have been screened in the MAKE Magazine Lit & Luz Festival, Seattle’s INCA: The Institute for New Connotative Action, and at Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City. He most recently received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame.


GOAL/TENDER MEAT/TENDER is a five act lyrical play intended for radio. Truth be told, I played ice hockey when I was a kid, but what I ended up finding most fascinating about the sport was the unique and arguably bizarre atmospherics of the ice arena itself. Everything about an ice arena is spectacle. The Zamboni ice resurfacer; the distinct lines of red and blue beneath the ice; the flashing goal lights; the glass boards (and their habit of shattering); the penalty box; the players’ costume-like uniforms; the iconic mask of the goaltender; the bloody, bloody fights; and the sweaty, sweaty locker rooms. I was interested in engaging in the properties of the ice arena in new ways. I started thinking of the ice arena as a stage. Bits and pieces of a story began constructing itself in my head as I read more and more about the history of hockey. For example, after researching the invention of the Zamboni, I discovered the first resurfacer of its kind was constructed using the hydraulic cylinder of an American A-20 attack plane (also known as a Douglas A-20 Havoc) and a chassis from an oil derrick. The fact that a part from of a war machine helped to build something that re-surfaces, that erases traces of human beings from their own slippery figure 8-like existence, felt eerily fitting.

The play finally materialized when I was reading about my favorite insect—the praying mantis. Oddly enough, the shape of its front legs reminded me of hockey sticks and I started thinking about what it might look like if a hockey team was given the task of mimicking insect behavior. More specifically, I began thinking about what it might look like if hockey players re-created the cannibalistic reproductive cycle of the female praying mantis. Next thing I knew, I was thinking about women dressing up like Gerry Cheevers and also thinking a lot about Kabuki and Butoh performances in relation to jouissance. The way mantids moved—carefully, gracefully, sometimes horrifyingly—reminded me a lot of Japanese dance theater. I wanted to know what it might sound like if a play-by-play sports announcer had to describe things other than hockey. What if a sports announcer had to describe a Butoh performance? I thought a lot about how that play-by-play dialogue should look on the page. How it should sound when spoken aloud. What if every character spoke like that? I tried to perform many of the roles aloud as I wrote them. I watched a lot of Guy Maddin and episodes of Green Porno, too. I often thought: should this play sound like it’s about insects or humans? And I like that I still don’t know if it’s a play about insects or humans.

The cast includes Iris, a hungry goaltender seeking a mate; Frank Zamboni, a frequent commentator and inventor of the Zamboni resurfacing machine; Brody, a celebrity athlete with a history of violence; and Lutz, a sexually frustrated former figure skater turned hockey player. All four characters exist in an environment that undergoes many physical changes. Additionally, the language of the poems consistently borrows from gestures of hockey, dance, drag, figure skating, synchronized swimming, Kabuki, Butoh, and mantid courtship behavior. I desperately wanted the lengthy finale, the gruesome cannibalization of Iris’s selected mate, to be as much of its own performance within the play as possible. I wanted every limb and every last snap to resonate. I wanted death to read like some sort of slow, slow choreography. Hijikata Tatsumi, the inventor of Butoh, once wrote, “I would like to make the dead gestures inside my body die one more time and make the dead themselves dead again. I would like to have a person who has already died die over and over inside my body. I may not know death, but it knows me. I often say that I have a sister living inside my body. When I am absorbed in creating a butoh work, she plucks the darkness from my body and eats more than is needed.”

The male praying mantis does not resist as he is cannibalized by the female praying mantis. As she begins by eating his face. He just knows. He just somehow knows that he has to die, that his mate must eat him for life to go on. He doesn’t put up a fight. He seems at peace with this death. I wanted to choreograph the pleasure of this agony somehow. I chose to do that by writing poems. I think it would be interesting if my choreography led to choreography of a different kind. I want art to move perpetually from medium to medium in really overwhelming ways. I want readers to experience the temporariness of their bodies in regard to humankind’s absurd moment on this planet. When it comes to art’s excess, I think we should overeat. Bite off more than we can chew. Swallow it all.

Excerpts from GOAL/TENDER MEAT/TENDER have previously appeared in BOAAT, Luna Luna Magazine, glitterMOB, and Spooky Magazine. A larger excerpt of the play is being distributed by horse less press as a chapbook under the same name (June, 2015).