Here’s a brilliant lecture by the late Mark Fisher. Pre-Brexit and Trump, I take it. But predicting the breakdown of things. It explains the demise of the heady ideas of my youth in ways I had not conceived before.
The Burning Air, Hutchinson, London, 1960
The Way In Viking, New York, 1968
No Resting Place Viking, New York, 1972
The World at Noon, Guernica Editions, Montreal, 1994
Eugene Mirabelli has written four novels which form a significant oeuvre. They are not singular, but interrelate in complex and delightful ways to form a unique (and, one assumes, unfinished) collectivity connected by a set of thematic concerns: family, marriage, Italian heritage, Cambridge, mutability and death; and structural articulations: the dominant male point of view that modulates briefly into the female at climactic junctures, the subtle fracturing and dislocating of time, and the interpolation of what Milan Kundera calls novelistic essays.
Literary comparisons are often invidious, but the names that come to mind as I read Mirabelli’s work are Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. The Burning Air is very much an Italian American “Goodbye, Columbus” and also reminds one of Bellow’s brief, tightly controlled early novels. Almost immediately, though, this comparison breaks down: Roth and Bellow share an era and a set of social concerns with Mirabelli, but their work falls into a Jewish American tradition (with roots in Yiddish literature) which is male-oriented, materialistic (i.e., of this world), intellectual, and comic. Mirabelli’s Italian American mental syntax is quite different: he builds his literary universe around an Augustinian dichotomy. His books are like long, careful sessions in the confessional, talking to God, enumerating small and large sins. His protagonists have one eye on the woman (wife and lover — Mary and Mary Magdalene) and one eye on death. He sees this world as an anxious and frustrating place, a place where his protagonists vain attempts at control are always being defeated by their own sinfulness and the fleeting nature of existence. Redemption comes only in the chaotic embrace of the family, the constricting yet reassuring bonds of love. A Mirabelli character may crack up and take anti-depressants, but one could never imagine him taking Roth’s detour into psychoanalysis or filing for multiple divorces as in Bellow.
Reading through Mirabelli’s novels in sequence one also begins to admire his technical ingenuity. He does lovely things which might not be noticed unless one treats the books as an on-going production. For example, he links his novels by taking a thematic note or plot segment from one and using it again in the next. The Burning Air is about a man who proposes to a woman and then never sees her again. In The Way In, the next novel, Frank Annunzio has proposed to a woman named Alba and then lost her. The Way In ends with Nancy’s premature and difficult delivery which is echoed darkly by Marianne’s miscarriage at the opening of No Resting Place. And, of course, Marco’s affair with Carol Crispin in No Resting Place is echoed in Nicolo’s affair with Roxanne in the last novel, The World at Noon.
Beginning with The Way In, Mirabelli also makes telling use of the novelistic essay. In The Way In, this takes the form of background essays on the Puritans who built New England and on the Shakers who built the school at which Frank begins his teaching career. The latter — mystical, other-worldly craftsmen — become a moral-spiritual counterpoint to the sad emptiness of Frank’s life before marriage and career. In No Resting Place, the device ramifies and extends itself into interpolated essays on Brook Farm, a running Sacco and Vanzetti sequence, and a tiny chapter on historic Albany. And in The World at Noon, the novelistic essay and family history combine and foliate in a delightful series of comic-mythic stories about the ancestors of the Cavallus. These interpolated essays and stories function like classical epyllions (one of Marshall McLuhan’s hobby horses) and give Mirabelli’s books what Yeats, in his essay on sub-plots in King Lear, called “the emotion of multitudes.”
This repetition of technical and thematic elements results in the odd sense one has reading these novels that the twenty-year gap between the publication of No Resting Place and The World at Noon ceases to exist in the experience of the reading. Mirabelli’s novels seem to form a perfectly logical sequence of growth, mutation and expansion. Each novel has been an advance in terms of technical virtuosity, thematic complexity and, for want of a better phrase, metaphysical accommodation. The Burning Air is taken up with George’s failed effort of control over the mysterious and fearful Giulia Molla. In The Way In, Frank Annunzio’s existential emptiness is the aftermath of that kind of loss of control (over women and/or the dark, shiftingness of things in general). Briefly, Frank is reprieved through marriage to Nancy and the community of friends he finds at the (Shaker) school (note especially the wonderful and redemptive chapter on kite flying), only to be plunged back into insecurity by the difficult birth of his child.
In No Resting Place, Mirabelli’s Manichean tour de force (the light of Brook Farm warring with the darkness of Sacco and Vanzetti), Marco Falconieri almost drowns in the slough of mid-life (and post-1960s) burnout which, really, is nothing but the final realization life itself will never redeem us, that things will not miraculously get better: “All our desire has been to carry through time, to stand on firm ground, reach out and stay the changes. Love leads us from ourselves to the things of this world, but in time these same things alter and pass away, no matter how much we cling to them. Here is no steady place.” In No Resting Place, Mirabelli grants us for the first time full access to the mental states of his protagonist as befits the overtly confessional mode of the narration. Mirabelli, as author, is himself beginning at this point to move deeper into his unique Italian-Catholic-American psyche, turning away from the vaguely modish, existential angst of the first two books toward a more chaotic (less controlled) vision of worldly and domestic uncertainty (the sinfulness of the flesh).
This is a dark, brave book which, in many ways, points toward its successor The World at Noon while yet not preparing us for the surprising shift of tone, the operatic and magical comedy of this most recent Mirabelli production. The World at Noon, as I have mentioned, replicates some of the plot articulations of No Resting Place — the extramarital affair, the reconciliation at the end. But the material is handled in a completely different way. It is as if, in delving always more deeply into who he is, Mirabelli has reinvented the peculiarly Italian, extravagantly melodramatic and often comic vision — the opera — in the novel form. By fusing the tale of American mid-life domestic woe with the mythical family histories of the Cavallus, he has created a wonderful interplay of now and then, this and that (the epyllion structure again). And he has coupled this complexity with a new sense of tranquil acceptance; not a superficial shrug but a genuinely comic (loving) accommodation. When Nicolo Pellegrino calmly invites his wife’s naked lover to climb down from the tree where he is hiding we know we have arrived at a totally new (for Mirabelli) and special literary place. And at the end of the novel, the double wedding of Gina and Aurora echoes the wedding at the close of The Tempest when Prospero throws his books of magic away and the world is renewed in the ritual sanctification of love and sexual regeneration.
This essay originally appeared in Italian Americana Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer 1995)
Brilliant, brilliant. The backbone of the magazine, I have always thought, is the book review section, a steady beat of solid guidance, an expression of value and direction. This is what we think of as the most intriguing writing out there. This is what we want to identify with, what we want our readers to love and appreciate. Not only that, but we think of book reviews as an art form unto themselves, and a form to which any writer should be able to turn his or her hand. This month, for the slider at the Top of the Page, our contributor, Joseph Schreiber, himself a remarkably intelligent and graceful reviewer of books, has has hand picked the best of the best from your growing archive of truly masterful book reviews: Melissa Matthewson on Charles D’Ambrosio, Jason DeYoung on Joy Williams, Eric Foley on Max Blecher, Frank Richardson on Richard Weiner, Benjamin Woodard on Ingrid Winterbach, Natalie Helberg on Lisa Robertson, and Joseph himself on Rafel Chirbes. Read and admire.
We are coming out of our Christmas hibernation, running up the the January issue starting tomorrow. But FIRST! The de rigueur 892-gun salute from the Numéro Cinq Drum and Bugle Corps for our newest contributor, Dorian Stuber. Dorian is a smart, erudite, and graceful writer who blogs about books with impressive regularity and made his NC debut in our December issue with his review of Henry Green’s Loving. We are delighted and humbled at the prospect of more of his work in our forthcoming issues.
Dorian Stuber teaches at Hendrix College. He has written for Open Letters Monthly, The Scofield, and Words without Borders. He blogs about books at www.eigermonchjungfrau.wordpress.com.
This is the first issue of the eighth year of publication for Numéro Cinq, an astonishing and unexpected turn of events, neither foreshadowed nor forwarned in the long gone early days when we thought we’d do this for six months tops. The cover image for the issue is from Mark Reamy, a brilliant discovery brought to us via the scouting efforts of Contributing Editor Rikki Ducornet. Reamy’s unsettling, hybrid images are both surreal and prophetic, counting the days before the ice caps melt completely the the oceans quietly lap the sandy shores of Utah. This fits the issue line up in more ways than I can list.
Headliners this month include the illustrious Dawn Raffel doing a stint as a guest reviewer at NC, writing about Samuel Ligon’s Among the Dead and Dreaming, and the legendary poet Donald Hall interviewed for us by Allan Cooper, who also contributes a review of Hall’s The Selected Poems of Donald Hall.
From Ireland this time, we have a gorgeous, lively story by Mia Gallagher about an eccentric Dublin hooker, her biscuit-tin money box and a snake named Kaa.
But besides the Gallagher story, we have an epic haul of fiction in this issue — stories by John Madera and David Huddle and a novel excerpt from Eugene Mirabelli. And a first publication by Laura Fine Morrison who wrote for us a delightfully winsome makeover of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” — a little African boy turns into a yam.
We also have poetry — an epic haul, a veritable flood — from the inimitable Kathy Fagan, also Mary di Michele from Canada, Stuart Barnes from Australia, and Alison Prine. And our translation this month is a selection of poems by the Slovenian poet Marjan Strojan (scouted for us by Contributing Editor Sydney Lea).
Gary Garvin contributes an essay on Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” that cannot escape contemporary parallels. Laura Michele Diener has a poignant essay about her beloved father, ailing with dementia. And Noah Getavackas, who has been here before, continues his satiric progress through the great philosophical and religious works of the West.
We have more reviews. Frank Richardson on Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias, Jason Lucarelli on Assisted Living by Gary Lutz.
And there is more! Late and or feverishly awaited. Perhaps this month we’ll get a new NC at the Movies.
As usual, it’s a miracle we made it.
I picture her not on the canal, but across the city, on the other strip; the Golden Mile near Heuston train station. Sun slants over the low roofs, striping the Liffey gold. A man pulls up in his Punto, winds down his window. Another girl is nearer but the man beckons to Susie, smiling his slow, investigative punter’s smile. Susie leans over. A waft of fag smoke, sweat and Magic Tree. —Mia Gallagher
I went out looking
at Europe & all its stones
its diagonal churches & bronze
horses my shoes clattering like their
shoes my eyes as wild
If the heart is a cup
if coins are diamonds
well then we are
full & we are rich
In Ligon’s world, every emotion and impulse shimmers with its opposite, every moment is saturated with the consciousness of others, and every boundary is subject to erasure—as when Mark says of Cynthia, “Her presence was everywhere and then her absence, and then her presence again, so that her presence and absence felt like the same thing.” —Dawn Raffel
My lowest point coincided with my divorce and five years of booze and casual promiscuity before I met and married Jane. When we were first married, it took me a while to get started. Actually I wrote the first parts of The One Day, although I couldn’t bring it together for another dozen years, and started “Kicking the Leaves” (the poem not the book) before leaving Ann Arbor to move into this New Hampshire house. Here the place and the marriage to Jane flowered, and I wrote the book Kicking the Leaves, with my horses and my cows et cetera. It was my breakthrough. —Donald Hall
My body began to transform anew. Dark blotches established themselves on my skin. A crack developed in my side, with a crusty edge that flaked off to reveal more discolored tissue below.
At Mother’s request, Grandfather came by to evaluate my condition. He ran a thickly calloused finger along the fissure. “Yam rot,” he confirmed.
Mother twined her fingers. “Can he be saved?” —Laura Fine Morrison
We contemplated her gaze and that gesture, at least for a while, as she faced us, the smiling Army Specialist Sabrina Harman, who aided in the gathering of intelligence at her station, Abu Ghraib, the prison deep inside occupied Iraq. Or rather we saw her in pictures brought to light after years of subtle horrors in a war we thought was going well and whose mission we were sure of, the pictures bringing a clarification, an obviousness, a relief, their own kind of rightness. She does not look at what she smiles over or what she thumbs up but we see them, the pile of grotesquely hooded, naked men, the blackened corpse. —Gary Garvin
About the time when my father, Abraham Morganstern, started to lose his memory, he began to sort through the household trash on a daily basis, picking out with surprising care bent hangers, sole-less shoes, cracked mirrors, unattached buttons, and other items he deemed worthy of resuscitation. His triumphant scavenging at first irritated my mother, Hadassah Morganstern, and me when I happened to return for a visit to the ever-more-cluttered house of my childhood, but after a while we both accepted it as a permanent facet of his new personality. I suppose if you are falling away into some sort of mental darkness, you hold onto anything concrete, even if it’s broken. —Laura Michele Diener
I believe every photograph is a memory, an exact moment of time and space. By combining photographs, I am conflating accounts, adding them together and forming new stories. Domestic interiors are overrun with something unexpected, something other. The incredibly banal shifts into the transcendent, and so on. I’m interested in how the present influences the past, and I’m investigating why we selectively remember or forget. I’m fascinated that our history is constantly changing, that something so seemingly concrete can slip away. I welcome the surreal, psychedelic and uncanny. —Mark Reamy
So, in the cobwebs of Saint Petersburg’s
Railway Station (in snow) Madame Karenina
still waits to throw herself under a train.
And I’ll probably never find out what Vronsky
could have done at the time, if anything.
Tatiana never finished her letter, though I presume
she had turned down the poet, who ages ago,
in his small neat hand, had been scribbling
in his notebook the names of his lovers.
when my mother started to lose her memory she kept
this photo in her pocket; it’s folded into quarters
and badly creased. Some might say it was ruined. Red mail truck, red
mailbox, it’s a cheerful colour on a dull day in No
Damned Good. How did I get here? I grow old, I grow old, I
will wear the bottoms of my blue jeans rolled.
—Mary di Michele
You said, watch the wood storks as they circle,
their grace disappears so utterly when landing.
Hard to decipher the dank smell of the paper mills
from the old salt of the marshland.
Soon we’ll forget both and in our absence
the nests of these egrets will fall, stick by stick.
High tide: the drunk drops a line where salt
water, fresh converge: subtropical trompe
l’oeil: honeyeaters squeak on asphalt,
stab redly at chalk grapes: the Coral Sea, salt
like speech, scallops trawlers, fault on fault:
sudden whoosh, O God! from mangrove swamp:
the meth head rehydrates the brat: sugar, water, salt:
the black hour pitches: four thousand bats tromp.
After I moved out, I got pretty crazy and went into what I’ve thought of as my “Sound of Silence” phase. I listened to that song a lot, but it was “The Boxer” that I fixated on. The verse of it about the whores on Seventh Avenue just kept ripping my heart out. For several months I was at its mercy. I needed to feel the pain of it again and again. —David Huddle
Sort of heartbreaking is the girl’s response if you fuss with it, and you must because meaning-making is up to you. Has it been years since she loved only once? This is as funny as it is sad. Her phrase widens the gap that has been there from the beginning. She shows her age, her lack of experience. The narrator’s hurts turn out to be worse than hers. —Jason Lucarelli
We all have secrets. We all have secrets we would never divulge and secrets we wish had never been revealed. That we cannot fully know another is axiomatic, that we deny our own history and the histories of others, commonplace. Where, then, the place for truth? We live in a time when the Oxford Dictionaries awarded “post-truth” word of year. —Frank Richardson
It’s a privilege to love someone and I loved Alba. “I’m so happy you found me,” she used to say. I was handsome, her man from the sea, and the one she loved best in the whole world. She’s gone, so I’m not handsome anymore. I’m an old man driving home with a pizza and I’m sobbing because some cheerful asshole is singing on the radio about his love who is gone beyond the sea and the moon and stars, but she’s waiting and watching for him, and someday he’ll find her there on the shore and they’ll be together and he’ll embrace her, just as he did before.—Eugene Mirabelli
Then in a flowry valley set him down
On a green bank, and set before him spred
A table of Celestial Food, Divine,
Ambrosial, Fruits fetcht from the tree of life,
And from the fount of life Ambrosial drink,
That soon refresh’d him wearied, and repair’d
What hunger, if aught hunger had impair’d,
Or thirst, and as he fed, Angelic Quires
Sung Heavenly Anthems of his victory
Over temptation and the Tempter proud.
Image by the Gefen Team, via designboom:
Tel Aviv-based creative agency gefen team has come up with a series of limited-edition bottles that can snap a picture of you while you sip your soft drink … gefen team’s vision for the coca-cola selfie bottle brings the brand closer to a generation of younger buyers, who would undoubtedly enjoy selfie-taking while they sip. users were able to seamlessly upload the pictures to their phone or computer for easy social media sharing across their own, and the company’s platforms.
Text for Paradise Regained from The John Milton Reading Room, Dartmouth College.
See also: Paradise Lost
Here’s the new trailer for the Waterford production of Elle, the play based on my novel, which is actually the Theatre Passe Muraille touring production, bound later for Winnipeg and Vancouver. But the Waterford performance is first on the tour, my home town, champagne extravaganzas on the first and last nights. I will be there, possibly not standing upright.
In other news, it turns out Goose Lane Editions, Elle‘s publisher, is rolling out a new print run to keep up with demand. Nice news.
For those of you who have been losing sleep over our need for another production editor, rest easy. We are delighted (and relieved) to announce that Sadie McCarney has joined the masthead to help us keep the behind-the-scenes chaos under control. No small task, but she brings a great deal of skill and enthusiasm to the magazine, and we’re confident that things can only go up from here. Not the least of her charms, it’s worth mentioning, is that she’s already had a poem in the annual Best Canadian Poetry in English.
Sadie McCarney has had poems published in Grain, The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, Room, The Puritan, and The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2015, as well as one short story that appeared in PANK Magazine. In 2010 she received the Nova Scotia Talent Trust Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Artistic Achievement. Sadie has worked as a social media manager and as a tour guide at a National Historic Site, but she prefers to tinker with words and websites. Twitter: @Sadiepants
Much work at NC goes unheralded. Our Senior Editor Fernando Sdrigotti gets his name on hardly any of the contributions he makes to the magazine, yet he is indefatigable and inspired in his curatorial duties. At the Top of the Page this month we are featuring a little of Fernando’s own work (essay and fiction) but also work by several of the wonderful writers he has brought to the magazine, writers like Jeremy Brunger (now on the masthead himself), Tomoé Hill, Chris Campanioni, Martin Dean, and Agri Ismaïl. There are many others, but these must stand for the rest.
NC is a feudal meritocracy (or something like that). People with energy and the ability to multitask and contribute in different ways get noticed very quickly, and then we demand more of them (we’re a little insidious that way) until nothing is left but a dry husk (this is a joke, btw).
Deirdre Baker came on as production editor, and then she became a production manager, basically what, at the Montreal Star, we used to call a copy boss. She is also codifying house style, creating poetry templates, creating image links resources, and doing a lot of production work besides. So now we’re raising her from production manager to managing editor (which means, you know, a crushing, never-ending workload, sleepless nights of worry, and finally a resort to drugs and alcohol — this is all in the job description). This means she handles all the production side of things except for the book reviews, which are Jason DeYoung’s responsibility. Of course, it’s the nature of the magazine that everyone pitches in, and some contributors actually upload and format their own work. Deirdre will watch over all of this with an IRON FIST.
Also Melissa Beck, after a short stint as a production editor, is rising to special correspondent to take in the fact that she now also writes reviews for the magazine and has been inviting and curating some translation posts (inviting, packaging, editing). She’s a brilliant reviewer. Everything she does enhances the magazine. And her energy and enthusiasm are boundless (so helpful on Facebook and Twitter). It behooves me to take advantage of her while I can. And, of course, I have it written in blood, that she will continue in her role on the production side of things. So, though it looks like we are losing another production editor, we’re not.
Jonah put this song in my mind; now it won’t go away. Recalls to me the piratical impulse that led us to start the magazine in the first place. And then, yes, after seven years — a broken, lonely man on a Halifax pier. Ah me.
Maybe it’s not that bad.
With this in mind, knowing full well the catastrophe that awaits you, I want to remind one and all that we still need production editors. We found one very competent person (soon to be announced) last week, but we’d be more comfortable with another (spreads the work around and provides reserves).
Here is the HELP WANTED PAGE. Please take a look and throw your bodies onto the pyre.
Also let it be noted that the SUBMISSIONS PAGE for Childhood, My First Job, and What It’s Like Living Here essays has been reopened for a while. We got a gorgeous Childhood piece this morning from County Mayo in Ireland.
The last issue of Volume 7, the end of the 7th year — we’re calling it the Hallucination Edition because, well, you’ll see; it’s a bit twisty, startling, destabilizing and hallucinatory. I’ve always been interested in the madness/mysticism nexus (R. D. Laing and Carlos Castaneda were my spirit guides). It pops up in my novels especially: Hendrick N.’s mad conversation with his Iroquois torturer in The Life and Times of Captain N. (“Becoming a savage is like entering a swarming madness. But it might redeem you.”) and the heroine’s mysterious and alarming (hallucinatory) transformation into a bear in Elle. And I was dipping into The Cloud of Unknowing the other day when I happened to discover the brilliant scholar and writer Nicola Masciandaro. I read some of his things on Academia, then contacted him, and Lo!, he had a piece on madness, mystical knowledge, and The Cloud of Unknowing pristine and unpublished. If this was not the Forces of the Universe aligning, I don’t know what is. But it’s also one of those dreamy confluences, hallucinatory in itself. Like the world and my mind are talking with my knowing it.
The necessity of being at one’s wits’ end is a pure necessity, a necessity without object, and thus a necessity that only frees one more and more from being a subject of needs. Near-madness is the only alternative for staying close to being what one must. —Nicola Masciandaro
Also we have these images and texts, both swirling and surreal, one of the images actually called The Antechamber of Hallucination, from J. Karl Bogartte, lunar, lapidary, and loony (surrealism marks the line between madness, art and wisdom).
An intimacy of longing dwells in us like words that have no meaning, but animal cries, torn linen, a loving defiance… —J. Karl Bogartte
S. D. Chrostowska returns to our pages with a story called “Opferlingen” — a nightmare otherworldy vision of obscene rites of kingship and power.
Everything is permitted. There are no rules, no stroke is too indecent. All of it is equally obscene. The Opferlingen are unusually strict in everyday sexual mores. To me the prince might be a living relic, a martyr worthy of public veneration, but he is subject to treatment normally beneath the dignity of his “subjects.” Let me be clear: this is no carnival, with merriment and overturned hierarchies, presided over by the Prince of Fools. They are acting out the lowest human urges—possibly to exorcize them, but without a doubt to make a political point that still remains obscure. — S. D. Chrostowska
Dawn Promislow’s story “Cat” — all too brief — gives us a vision of Florence, an intensely concentrated sculptor working over his metal, striking sparks, and a gray cat winding through the shadows.
And everywhere you look there are black and grey metal forms that are sculptures, on old wooden tables and on worn wooden shelves, at every height and covering every piece of wall and space. Some are just shapes: spirals and curves, or angular and sharp. But some are animals, or people, metalled. They’ve been melted and smelted and reworked, forged and reforged, into these metalled, living creatures. —Dawn Promislow
Our intrepid contributor Carolyn Ogburn interviews composer David Smooke, the man famous for performing his own works for the miniature piano.
I mean, I grew up a punk and goth, right? So…yeah…Just so you know, I’m kind of looking that way because have a toy piano sitting right there, and I keep looking at it…—David Smooke
Karen Mulhallen grew up in a brilliant, artistic, cultured, writerly family in Woodstock, Ontario, a gilded place. But her mother taught her to make her own stylish clothes; she grew up with a sense of style, taste, and fashion at her fingertips. In this issue, we have a hybrid essay, part memoir, part catalogue, and part exploration of fashion in fiction (there is also a great collection of personal photos).
But when I got my first real job, as a teacher in a university, my mother spent months with me going to the fabric mills, just east of Kitchener-Waterloo, and then making me suits and dresses, some from elaborate Vogue patterns. Was this because I was gainfully employed and needed to present a professional appearance, or was it because I became beautiful for the first time since I was a little girl? Now I could be a brooch on my mother’s lapel. Or, as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own remarked, women are the looking glasses who enlarge men at twice their size. —Karen Mulhallen
In Numero Cinco, our Mexician lit series, we’re featuring poems by the brilliant Elsa Cross, translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano. Not only that, but our Mexico contributor, Dylan Brennan, conducts a wide-ranging interview with the translator.
They are a white shadow
innocence in the yellow phrases
…………..…………..…………..……….of a dying man
the catastrophe of the voice
—Elsa Cross, translated Anamaría Crowe Serrano
Our splendid new production editor Melissa Considine Beck has transferred her prodigious talents to book reviewing, this time giving us the lowdown on John Kaag’s philosophical memoir, his encounter with an almost forgotten library, 10.000 books in an unheated New England stone house.
Kaag stumbles upon an opportunity to heal his soul in the form of West Wood’s stone library which, upon entering, he discovers is home to more than 10,000 books. The books that Kaag finds inside this unlocked and unheated building, especially the number of first editions, are the stuff of dreams for any bibliophile. Among the rodent droppings, porcupines, termites, various other bugs and dust Kaag finds Decartes’ Discourse on Method–first edition from 1649, Thomas Hobbes’s Levithan-first edition from 1651, the complete, leather-bound volumes of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, John Locke’s Two Treatise on Government from 1690, Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft from 1781, Emerson’s Letters and Social Aims–first edition, 1875 and on and on. To think that this horde of precious and irreplaceable books was sitting in the woods less than 2 hours away from my home in New England sends chills down my spine. —Melissa Considine Beck
Donald Winkler has translated a fascinating historical poem by the great French-Canadian poet, Pierre Nepveu, three-time winner of the Governor-General’s Award for poetry and nonfiction.
Early morning, scarred fire, noble bones, woodland song, men’s and women’s voices among the trees. I am the dust of ages, whirlwind of the deeps, escapee from the first caves. I tremble at being what I am, do you hear me, woman of the woods, of wool woven under the lampshade and the trellis of blood that shivers in the window? —Pierre Nepveu, translated by Donald Winkler
This is an amazing first: dual or dueling poets, collaborative or conspiratorial poems, mad, surreal, comical, by Rauan Klassnik and Russell Bennetts.
orange tea, i ha sailed
the trembling, blow-meat seas. And I have blue trousers sports ones on
last night’s pizza scattered for my mouse
—Klassnik & Bennetts
Rikki Ducornet wrote me shortly after the news came out that Leonard Cohen had died. She said she’d written a poem “as big as a small truck” that seemed to have echoes and rumours of Cohen through it, as if she were dreaming out her mourning onto the page. I wrote back: “Send small truck.” (This is how the editorial work at NC gets done.)
They come together
in the sudden rain
beneath a sky unhinged.
Their losses sweeping down
veiling, unveiling their faces.
She says: I come to you
as my father leans into his departure.
We have a hour. An hour, only.
Cassidy McFadzean is a Canadian poet, discovered and solicited for us by our new poetry co-editor Susan Gillis.
A woven chain around
his neck, secures the unicorn
to a wooden pen, seated therein
amidst white irises and Madonna
lilies, carnations and clove,
orchids and bistorts, dragonflies
dashing over the wallflowers
and white thistle, the cipher’s
tasseled cord hanging from a tree,
bearing its riddle mysteriously.
Eamonn Sheehy I met on Twitter. I am increasingly surprised at how much you can intuit from a couple of 140-character texts. You can guess tilt, torque, and taste. We moved from tweeting, to DMs, to emails, and suddenly I had these excerpts from his memoir-in-progress for our Irish series Uimhir a Cúig.
The ferret – the hot steel of nature. Jumping from his master’s hand onto the grass with a bounce, he is off at speed towards the rabbit burrows. A high pitched curling. An unnatural sound. It was the first time I heard a rabbit scream. —Eamonn Sheehy
And from Susan Aizenberg, the American side of out dual or dueling poetry editors (collaborative and conspiratorial), poems from Hilda Raz.
Age is an evolution – or devolution – of lust.
To be lost in revolt, as one must be growing up
invites erotics into the palace of the family.
Air spiked with ecstasy. We all know it.
So voluble in bed might signify lust
or politics, depending on whether
you live in a hovel, where the velocity
of wildlife, certainly a mouse, about its vital business
shadows the movements of governments…
We have a new reviewer starting out this issue (well, two, counting Melissa Considine Beck). Dorian Stuber was suggested by Joe Schreiber, and we are very glad he spoke up. This is a terrific read and a great introduction to the work of Henry Green.
Young Henry was fascinated by Poole, even though the man did not like Green’s mother and spoke badly about her to the boy. (The family legend is that he never forgave her for making him bowl sugar beets across the lawn for her to shoot at.) Green, who adored his mother though he seldom saw her, was torn apart by these calumnies yet unwilling to repudiate the one who made them. —Dorian Stuber
And from Natalia Sarkissian, somewhere in Italy, we have a review of Ratika Kapur’s trans-cultural novel The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma.
One of her tools toward creating Mrs. Sharma’s particular, vivid voice, is to flavor Mrs. Sharma’s speech with genteel titles—bhaisahib, mummyji, papaji, Vineetji—drawing the reader into an intimate space. Another is to refer to places and things with acronyms without giving explanations—SDA, IIT, BeD—treating the reader as an insider, a friend, a confessor. But it is the style of the sentences themselves—the breathy, delicious sentences, the declarations that the reader knows are rationalizations—that render Kapur’s The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma with its unreliable narrator truly memorable. —Natalia Sarkissian
And there is, gasp! MORE! (At my wit’s end. I dunno, being the editor here really is hallucinatory, schizoid, and surreal, also kind of fun.)
The scale of Étienne-Louis Boullée’s cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton is enormous. The sphere alone has a diameter of 500 feet. Cypress trees, symbols of mourning, circle the monument on three levels, tightly spaced. A cenotaph is a monument honoring a person whose remains lie elsewhere.
Boullée was the son of an architect, a brilliant student who went on to teach and become a first-class member of Royal Academy of Architecture in Paris. It is late eighteenth century. Neoclassicism was in full bloom and ideas of the Enlightenment were in the air.
Holes are cut in the exterior to simulate inside the points of light of stars in the universe, the interior otherwise black:
At night a central hanging light illumines:
O Newton! With the range of your intelligence and the sublime nature of your Genius, you have defined the shape of the earth; I have conceived the idea of enveloping you with your discovery. That is as it were to envelop you in your own self.
Boullée says about his monument in a treatise.
The cenotaph rests on a solid foundation, a belief in reason and basic truths and the truth of basic forms, in an orderly fitting together of parts, the power of architecture to reform. It was never built, however, because practically it was unfeasible. Boullée was a visionary.
The French Revolution was around the corner.
Postmodernists took a liking, for a while.
Almost no one was there the day we went, so we had it to ourselves. We climbed the broad stairs and entered through a round opening, large yet still dwarfed by the sphere. Then we walked through a long tunnel that took us to the interior, to the center, where rested the empty sarcophagus. We glanced at the sarcophagus, then looked up at the stars.
Newtonian physics still works well enough for us, day to day. Of course the universe is expanding, of course it is made of stuff we only somewhat understand, but we were content to see it fixed on the ceiling and we spent the rest of the day enveloping ourselves in ourselves and each other, reaching out into a space that seemed endless.
Night, when the light went on, we were blinded.
The masthead is always in a state of mild flux, and though we recently hired on some excellent new production people, we also lost one. (To graduate school — imagine! There’s a life beyond NC?) So we’re back on the market for someone with solid WordPress skills and the ability to copyedit.
NC is a community, more like a village, once you’re inside, than a rigid hierarchy. So if you’re energetic and skillful, it’s the usual thing to branch out from production. Kathy Para interviewed her favourite poet. Deirdre Baker started out as a production editor and now manages post production for everything except the book reviews. Melissa Beck hired on as a production editor and now also writes reviews and solicits translations.
Or you can just keep doing production. An integral part of the magazine.
The work isn’t onerous because everyone pitches in, and you get to be part of this marvelous crowd of writers.
Send applications to email@example.com.
p.s. Check out our Help Wanted page for other opportunities.
Dylan Brennan is a peripatetic Irishman living in Mexico City. He’s been curating posts for our Numero Cinco (Mexican Lit.) feature. So it’s a great pleasure to announce that he is ascending to the gods, er, joining the masthead as a regular contributor. The NC Regimental Drum and Bugle Corps would have performed a fanfare but refused to leave barracks this morning on account of snow. The rest of you can raise a glass.
Currently based in Mexico City, Dylan Brennan writes poetry, essays and memoirs. His debut collection, Blood Oranges, for which he won The Patrick Kavanagh Award runner-up prize, was published by The Dreadful Press in 2014. His co-edited volume of academic essays Rethinking Juan Rulfo’s Creative World: Prose, Photography, Film is available now from Legenda Books (2016). In addition to his work as Mexico Curator for Numéro Cinq, he regularly contributes to the online Mexican literary site Portal de Letras. Twitter: @DylanJBrennan
More exciting news about Elle, the play (based in my novel Elle). If you have been tracking this you are aware that Severn Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille are taking the play on tour this winter (tour details here). But it’s just been announced that this tour will actually start with performances in my home town of Waterford, Ontario, at the Old Town Hall Theatre, under the aegis of the most charming artistic director ever, Claire Senko (passionate, fierce, scarily competent, friend of Fred Eaglesmith).
I went over to meet Claire Friday afternoon and wander around the place. All strangely familiar because I grew up just outside of town, and once even strummed a guitar with my brother’s band during a rehearsal on the theatre stage in the early 70s.
There will be performances on January 26, 27, 28 and 29, and on February 2, 3, and 4.
There will be an opening night champagne gala and a talkback session with the playwright and actress Severn Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille’s artistic director Andy McKim (who fed me incredibly intelligent questions about the novel and play when we did an onstage interview together last January).
And closing night (February 5, Saturday) there will be ANOTHER! champagne gala and a talkback session with me after the show. (Amber Homeniuk will be the facilitator, as they call it.)
This video slideshow was produced by an old friend, Alison Bell. (Her brother Ian Bell has appeared in the magazine.)
Haste hither Eve, and worth thy sight behold
Eastward among those Trees, what glorious shape
Comes this way moving
Ah, why should all mankind
For one mans fault thus guiltless be condemn’d,
But from mee what can proceed,
But all corrupt, both Mind and Will deprav’d,
Not to do onely, but to will the same
Either to disinthrone the King of Heav’n
We warr, if Warr be best, or to regain
Our own right lost: him to unthrone we then
May hope when everlasting Fate shall yeild
To fickle Chance, and Chaos judge the strife
High in the midst exalted as a God
Th’ Apostate in his Sun-bright Chariot sate
Idol of Majesty Divine, enclos’d
With Flaming Cherubim, and golden Shields
So under fierie Cope together rush’d
Both Battels maine, with ruinous assault
And inextinguishable rage; all Heav’n
Resounded, and had Earth bin then, all Earth
Had to her Center shook.
The rest in imitation to like Armes
Betook them, and the neighbouring Hills uptore;
So Hills amid the Air encounterd Hills
Hurl’d to and fro with jaculation dire,
That under ground, they fought in dismal shade;
Infernal noise; Warr seem’d a civil Game
To this uproar; horrid confusion heapt
Upon confusion rose: and now all Heav’n
Had gone to wrack, with ruin overspred
Go then thou Mightiest in thy Fathers might,
Ascend my Chariot, guide the rapid Wheeles
That shake Heav’ns basis, bring forth all my Warr,
My Bow and Thunder, my Almightie Arms
Gird on, and Sword upon thy puissant Thigh;
Pursue these sons of Darkness, drive them out
From all Heav’ns bounds into the utter Deep:
There let them learn, as likes them, to despise
God and Messiah his anointed King.
. . . a noble stroke he lifted high,
Which hung not, but so swift with tempest fell
On the proud Crest of Satan, that no sight,
Nor motion of swift thought, less could his Shield
Such ruin intercept: ten paces huge
He back recoild; the tenth on bended knee
Hence then, and evil go with thee along
Thy ofspring, to the place of evil, Hell,
Thou and thy wicked crew; there mingle broiles,
Ere this avenging Sword begin thy doome,
Or som more sudden vengeance wing’d from God
Precipitate thee with augmented paine.
(Paradise Lost text via The John Milton Reading Room, Dartmouth College. All pictures by the author from the 6th Annual Patties Cruise In, a car show and street festival in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Special thanks to the guys at NWA Blue Collar Wrestling.)
(— Gary Garvin)
DG and his intrepid close relative RG, who has appeared earlier on these pages, went for their usual pre-winter canoe trip on Big Creek (see Google map above: southern Ontario where Long Point juts into Lake Erie). RG fell in first unwisely trying to clear a snag. Then they went to another put in spot and realized they’d left the paddles back at the first put in. RG made DG stay with the canoe in the mud while he drove in his warm car (with heated seats) back for the paddles. DG, the creative mind behind NC, passed the time taking selfies. Then RG rammed DG into a thorn bush and his hand was bleeding. When they got back to the landing DG’s bare feet were so cold he fell over.
Actually, it was quite stunning (aside from the nature and brother-on-brother violence). Immense labyrinthine marshlands, many threatened species holding out there. Fascinating to me because in 1670, on Easter Sunday, two Sulpician priests, François Dollier de Casson and René de Brehant de Galinée, were struggling to cross Big Creek in flood when they heard above them the shrieks of horses, the jangling of harness, war cries and the sounds of battle. According to their journal, they knew exactly what it was, King Arthur’s Hunt. King Arthur’s Hunt is one name/a version of the legend of the Wild Hunt (also Charlemagne’s Hunt), which John Irving used in the short story “The Pension Grillparzer” in the The World According to Garp. Ghostly, wraithlike warriors riding and battling endlessly in the sky. Terrific to be in exactly that spot.
I have an anthology of quotations about Long Point and Norfolk County, including that journal entry, which you can read here.
—Photos by dg, rg & google maps