It just tickles the hell out of me, watching an issue come together. Divine serendipity, or Fate, or blind luck, or, what I prefer, amazing intelligence and taste on the part of our collective masthead.
The other day Rikki Ducornet wrote and suggested I look at an artist she’d met named Dave Kennedy. I found him, wrote to him, and behold! He’s really something. He does large scale photo, photocopy, and junk collages (I guess you would call them) based on ideas of identity and reappraisal he picked up on the streets in the projects when he was a kid. “What are you?” people used to ask him. (He’s Native American, African, and Italian yet undefinable.) So now he makes art out the things that don’t look like art, that aren’t conventionally recognized as having aesthetic merit, and he talks a line of theory that sounds like our patron saint Viktor Shklovsky in a North American mode.
My mother is Italian and Eritrean, and my father Native American. I didn’t look like one ethnic group or another, and I would walk these multicultural city blocks alone, looking for someone else like me. It was common for people to make assumptions as to what I was: Mexican, Samoan, Black. “What are you?!” My response to these objectifying guesses and questions is embedded in my practice and my exploration of an expanded view into unseen subjectivities. —Dave Kennedy
But “What are you?” is an electrifying question. In this issue, we have work from an Irish poet, Mexican writers, an African-American poet, an English short story writer, Canadians, Australians, Americans, a Navajo, a Romanian, an Argentinian, a Catalan, and a Belgian. We have French poems translated into English by an Indian-American. And more!
What tickles me most about this issue is in fact its global diversity. This was always part of the vision at NC (read our non-existent vision statement for clarity on this), to create an indefinable (furiously undefined) mix that doesn’t recognize boundaries or conventions (even the conventions of unconventionality). Contact with the Other is exciting, gets your blood up, is good for you (well, if it doesn’t kill you—always a distinct possibility, though not on NC).
We like it that NC exists online, in the ether, without a defined regional base. It sits firmly in the nation of very smart and creative people.
Also in this issue, Joe Schreiber (redoubtable, indefatigable, wise) reviews Black Bread by the Catalan writer Emili Teixidor. We will have an excerpt for your edification.
As elements of sadness, grief, and anger slowly begin to work their way into our hero’s voice, it easy, as a reader, to feel a sense of loss; it is as if we have allowed ourselves to grow up again alongside him. —Joseph Schreiber
We have bloody, mythic long poem “White Quetzal” by the above-mentioned Rikki Ducornet, for whom NC is becoming a second home. (A delightful and unlooked for outcome.)
Some awakened in the place named White Bone House
with broken jaws, forcibly initiated
into a dark knowledge. —Rikki Ducornet
After a much too prolonged hiatus, Denise Durkin returns to theses pages with a handful of poems from her heart.
Look at the papers on my desk huddled
under their blanket of dust. Almost
hear the words disappear – blown into
the dry well of what will be forgotten –
Allan Cooper delivers an eloquent and wise review of W. S. Merwin’s new collection.
W. S. Merwin’s Garden Time is a book about aging, about the practice of trying to live one’s life in the present. The recurring themes are loss and old love, memory and forgetting, and a kind of precognition that the whole of what we are was with us from the beginning —Allan Cooper
Australian Elizabeth Thomas is back with the third installment of her memoirs of an outback childhood. The most charming thing you’ll ever read. And she has such a collection of old photos. Wonderful to see and wonderful to look also at her earlier contributions.
‘Now change that needle often,’ Auntie Essie says, ‘or you’ll ruin those records.’ She’s not happy that we’re playing with the gramophone in the big lounge room with its elegant arm chairs and those large round Jap-silk cushions of scarlet and midnight blue. I expect she wasn’t allowed in there when she was growing up. But my Uncle Henry said, ‘Of course they can play in there. It isn’t a morgue!’ —Elizabeth Thomas
And a discovery. A fresh, gritty, new voice. Navajo short story writer Bojan Louis.
He couldn’t see No-Lee or the kid, but discerned Jared’s frightened sobs, the twist of a plastic cap against glass. He listened as No-Lee swallowed hard twice, twisted the cap back on. Heard the whoosh of something tumbling through the musty cave air and shattering near the kid’s noise. No-Lee laughed, gagged from the effort. Phillip rose and rushed into the black toward the sound; arms bent ninety at the elbow, hands curled to grasp what he could of No-Lee. —Bojan Louis
And Sydney Lea is back with poems of aging and wonderment, elegant, effortless, and elegiac.
To watch that band of vultures
coast along their thermal this morning
is to marvel at elegance and composure–
no need to repress old platitudes
about the birds as tokens
of my doom.
From Ireland this month, we have beautiful, trenchant poems by Paul McMahon.
I was standing beside one of the cremation paddocks
at the burning Ghats in Varanasi. A pyre was blazing –
bruise-black smoke rose up into the vacant sky
And our own translator-in-residence (who usually specializes in works translated from Tamil) A. Anupama turns a deft hand to rendering Baudelaire’s Les Fleur du Mal.
Dear mortals, I am lovely, like a dream made of stone,
and my breast, upon which all are bruised in their turn,
inspires in poets especially a love that burns
solid, eternal and mute as radium, pure matter alone.
—Charles Baudelaire translated by A. Anupama
And yet more poetry! From the scintillating Susan Aizenberg.
Until very near the end, it played and played.
Paternity Court, followed by Judge Judy,
in the afternoon — fineh mentshn, you’d say,
tsk-tsking and laughing at the unfaithful
men and small-time grifters, shaking your weak head
at this crazy new world. Nights, there were movies,
or docs on PBS, though you mostly missed
the endings, adrift on morphine and Xanax.
Also in this issue a new short story from the Romanian writer/translator Erika Mihálycsa, dense, witty, acutely observed.
Supercilious is the word, it crossed the translator’s mind, as she stepped out of the bathroom half a beat too early and caught in her husband’s look, beside the habitual let’s-drop-it-mom resignation, a new, yet unseen quality, a parry of the foibles: not now, she’ll hear us. It was not the first occasion when she caught her husband at it. —Erika Mihálycsa
Stephen Henighan is a Canadian writer and translator, an old friend of the magazine. He returns this time with an excerpt from his novel The Path of the Jaguar, just out in September. Read it and buy the book.
Mist condensed around her head. She felt the child’s twisting far down in her entrails as though it were marooned in a place beyond her reach. The Maker, the Modeller, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, wrought the world out of mist. Her mind strayed through the spaces beyond that haze when the mountains rose out of the water and the first people were fashioned out of corn and took the name B’alam. —Stephen Henighan
From Mexico (yes, we’re getting enough Mexican material on a regular basis that we’re almost ready to declare it a regular feature—Number Five in Spanish!), we have two short stories in translation from a lovely writers, Mónica Lavín.
Rose emerged naked and round on the shore, the sparse down of her sex dripping, her breasts pink and large, while the boy and the girl, separated, avoided looking at each other. The women shouted to Wayne not to urinate, which he was doing in a sumptuous arc, on the water where everyone was swimming. And Wayne took off running after his sister. —Mónica Lavín translated by Patricia Dubrava
And from England, Lewis Parker comes back to NC with an hilarious and spot-on send-up of American election practices, which can and must be read in the context of the current campaign. A must read.
“The F.E.C.’s lawyers said making voters recite speeches would breach voter registration laws, although there is a movement in Alabama campaigning to make all registered voters reel off two pages of the Independence Day screenplay from memory.”—Lewis Parker
And there is more! (Always there is more). Rob Gray will return with another NC at the Movies. Jason Lucarelli reviews Naked by the Belgian writer Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Frank Richardson reviews Zama by the Argentinian Antonio Di Benedetto.