Apr 192014
 

I wear many hats in my professional life, one of which finds me plugging away at my local library four days a week as a Library Specialist. What is a Library Specialist? Well, it’s not a Librarian (I don’t have a MLS degree), but it’s someone who has worked up the food chain a bit, who has knowledge that’s devoted to a specific department. In my case, that knowledge goes into promoting the library, writing press releases, contacting authors, etc.

Anyway, as a library employee, I take a certain umbrage when I see the stereotypical depictions of librarians in movies and on TV. So, for National Library Week, I compiled a little list of contemporary librarians in fiction that buck the trend of shy, scared wallflowers, and the good folks at BuzzFeed Books were kind enough to publish it. It is a tad silly, yes, but the writers I included are worth a look.

Here’s a bit of my intro:

Though the librarian stereotype continues to thrive in television and film, it is thankfully shattered in the world of literature. Rather than offering up dry, buttoned-up types (or their opposite: the sex-crazed nymphomaniac hiding behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses), many contemporary writers attach the occupation to immensely complicated characters forced to confront their own morals.

You can find the full list of librarians here.

— Benjamin Woodard

Apr 182014
 

DG is on his way home, though at this stage of life home is a moving target, indeterminate and scattered, more like a field of destinations than a particular place. Let’s just say he gets mail at a lot of different addresses.

But his sojourn as Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick is over and on April 16, as new snow blanketed Fredericton and the St. John River continued to rise across the street from Mark Jarman’s house, he left town (and was subsequently nearly swept away outside of Lancaster, NH, where the Connecticut River had flooded over Bridge Street in two places).

Last events included a reading at Odd Odd Sunday’s on Friday at Molly’s (postponed from the week before due to a blizzard) on April 11 and another reading at the Qwerty Reading Series at the Grad House Pub (which used to be Alden Nowlan’s house where dg, in a different incarnation, went for dinner a couple of times in the early 1970s) on April 14.

Most fun in the last weeks? Shoveling water with Mark in the flooded backyard where the cars were parked. Yes, shoveling water. Don’t ask. Just think: a couple of guys, estimable writers, trying to avoid work, shoveling water and drinking beer in the sun. Clarissa’s response? Irrepressible disbelief and glee at the strangeness of men. Rob’s response? This will go away if I ignore it.

What does dg feel like leaving? Time to move on but lots of regrets. What does Lucy feel? No, I don’t want to go. This is the best place ever. I have friends. I have put down roots. You can’t make me leave.

For anyone wishing to review the whole unseemly chronicle of events since last September, you can click through the Writer-in-Residence Blog.

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Jack Lucy and FifiJack, Lucy and Fifi

DSCF7573Mark on top of the snow mountain in the backyard, April 3

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DG at gradhouseDG’s last reading as Writer-in-Residence at the Grad House (formerly Alden Nowlan’s house), April 14 (Photo by Stephanie Doucette)

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DSCF7654Lucy refusing to get in the car, tucked in her favourite spot on the loveseat, where she spent many happy hours watching television, reading and offering editorial advice to Mark and Clarissa

Apr 162014
 

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Yesterday, Brevity Magazine‘s blog posted Patrick Madden’s short essay detailing Madden’s family outing to Michel de Montaigne’s tower:

The first goal on the Madden Family European Road Trip Vacation (after my semester directing a study abroad program in Madrid) was my own pilgrimage to Montaigne’s tower in the Perigord region east of Bordeaux. We arrived after a long day in the car and were surprised to find a chain blocking the entrance. Turns out the site was closed not just on Mondays, as David Lazar had warned me, but on Tuesdays as well.

What follows is an insightful look at opportunity, charity, and the quests writers take on to complete their work.

Read the rest here. (And read Madden’s NC contribution, “Essay as Evolutionary Advantage (après Borges),” here.)

— Benjamin Woodard

Apr 152014
 

Last November we published a gorgeous selection of Jordan Smith’s John Clare poems. Now The Hydroelectric Press has published those poems and more in its inaugural ebook Clare’s Empire, what they describe as “a fantasia on the life and work of the British poet, John Clare.” Jordan is, of course, a multiple-recidivist at NC, having published poetry (three times) and nonfiction here.

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In my introduction to Jordan’s poems last November, I wrote:

John Clare was a farm worker’s son, a contemporary of Keats, and, sometimes, a madman who thought he was Shakespeare and Byron. “I’m John Clare now,” he wrote. In one of his most famous poems, “I Am,” he penned the lines:

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

In the July issue we published Jeanette Lynes’ wonderful selection “From School of Flowers: The John Clare Poems.” Jordan Smith read those poems and almost immediately sent me some of his John Clare poems, written long before but aching to be part of the conversation. This delights me because I do have the persistent idea that NC is a community, a group of readers and writers talking to each other, not just numbly glancing and racing to the SUBMIT page. NC writers inspire each other and are inspired by the same things. I also really enjoy seeing two poets dealing with the same material (more or less), a practice that throws their styles and personalities into a bold relief. Read Jeanette’s poems and Jordan’s poems side by side and you will read them both better, find their individual felicities in difference.

When he sent me his poems, Jordan wrote: “I read the set of John Clare poems right away, with the complicated pleasure that the warps and threads and vines and dead ends of Clare’s life and work offer. I’ve thought about him a lot in the last several years, and spent a good part of a sabbatical in 2010-11 writing a book-length sequence about him. Jeannette Lynes’s poems are quite different than what I was up to, but I can see we were caught in the same gravity of that sweet, sad, class struggle of a life.”

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Apr 112014
 

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So this is one of the movie scenes that gets to me. It’s from the film A League of Their Own about a women’s professional baseball team in the 1940s. Tom Hanks is the alcoholic form big leaguer, Jimmy Dugan, called in to manage. Geena Davis is Dottie Hinson, the female lead, the team’s catcher. Jimmy (“There no crying in baseball“) Dugan at first ignores the team, then pushes too hard. Dottie decides to go home to Oregon. Then we have a scene culminating in Jimmy’s unforgettable speech. Jimmy is trying to get Dottie to stay. Dottie says, “It just got too hard.” Jimmy turns away, then swings back. “It’s supposed to be hard,” he says. “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

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Apr 092014
 

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Here’s another packet cover letter from my student Annie Bleecker in New Orleans (oh, I am blessed this semester with students who excel as letter writers). I published excerpts from her previous letter a month ago. You may remember it, you legions of NC readers. Annie is witty, spritely and aphoristic (read her last line on Viktor Shklovsky below). Also hilarious. Very droll. Also very liberated in her use of alternative forms (hourly diary, capitalization, mathematical symbols, parentheticals). She often couches her observations as binaries, contending contraries — even when she is not writing aphorisms per se, her thinking processes bend to the form. Much to admire. (I’ve cut out the bits that too specifically relate to our packet business.)

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Quickly, I want to give you a rundown of yesterday today, Saturday, the day I mistakenly thought was the packet due date

5:00 am: Alarm goes off. This is my weekday alarm, but I figure I’d better go with 5:00 today too because my three-year-old’s biorhythms are keenly attuned to the days of the week. She’ll throw a fit if she catches me sneaking out on the weekend.

5:05: Plan foiled. Fit thrown. I spend the next hour bribing her with food to go back to sleep / stripping her bed of peed sheets.

6:30: Leave house. Drive to work. Get a flat tire. Realize that this will be the second time in a week that I have called AAA. Realize that I don’t have AAA [card], so will have to get my husband (and thus, three-year-old) to come to the office to be here in person with the AAA card when the tow truck arrives. Realize the tow truck will not be able to fit in the parking garage. Ignore all of these realizations so that I can focus on finishing my packet.

7:00: Arrive at office. Take elevator to 24th floor. Put headphones on. Start writing. Scream bloody murder when a security guard appears in the doorway of what I thought was an empty office. Bitterly digest the information she tells me—that the lights and the air conditioning will be shut off at noon. Ignore this announcement so that I can focus on packet.

12:00: This begins the half of the day in which I write in the dark, sweating.

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Moving on…This cover letter has become a form of procrastination in its own right, mainly because it’s so much more fun to write. This leads me to a conundrum I’ve been thinking a lot about: I get that you would like me to write my creative stuff in the way I write these letters. I would also like that. However, I cannot think of something to write about in this tone. I don’t like to admit this because it seems simple, but I’ve not been able to come up with anything. It’s not like I only want to write all this dark shit all the time, but that is what occurs to me to write about.

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On Writing a  List Essay I find the list essay liberating. It is what I falsely imagine fiction writing to be like in the sense that it provides me with a vehicle for indirectness, a way to get around myself.

A bit of irony: one of the first list items is “fixate on identifying a narrative of decline.” When I was finishing the list, it occurred to me (because, as you know, very obvious things placed in front of my nose are never obvious to me) that the very act of writing a list about the past few years is precisely that—trying to identify a narrative of decline. There is something “so meta” about that, as the young folks say.

The deeper I got into the list, the more worried I became that I wasn’t going to be able to form a narrative arc with a beginning and an end from what I had. But the more I wrote, the more it seemed like a subtle transition was arising on its own, that of “the narrator” becoming a bit less of an asshole and slightly more engaged. I noticed that toward the end, I was advising the “narrator” not to say what she was really thinking, to instead smile and nod; whereas in the beginning of the essay, I would have instructed the narrator to do precisely the opposite. That wasn’t intentional. What is interesting is that I don’t even know if these instructions are what actually happened or is happening in reality or if I’m willing it so with the story. Getting into meta territory again here.

If I had to categorize this month it would fall under “Profound Doubt.” While first elated by the list essay and the distance / detachment it provided me, I now worry that I’ve abused the form. I’m not being evasive about action, but by avoiding writing about feelings, emotions, consequences, etc., I am still not giving a full picture. On the other hand, for me that was kind of the point.

Oh, and it’s supposed to be funny, and if I didn’t pull that off, then I’m really fucked because I just sound like a psychopath. So there they blow, the details in all their twisted glory. Do me a favor and drink a scotch (this is what I picture you drinking) before reading.

I went to hear Pam Houston talk at a bookstore hear after she published Contents May Have Shifted (which I hadn’t read but was persuaded to buy that night because of the intense stink-eye the bookstore clerks delivered). She said that it took her a few years to write the book and then she spent another few years just ordering and rearranging the snippets. This sounded ludicrous to me (though she did admit that she loves teaching and that’s why it took her so long), but I feel like I get that now. I wrote this essay really quickly (list essay = liberating), but then tinkered with the bits endlessly. I suspect this had something to do with tinkering and rearranging being easier than revising another essay. I even literally cut out each item with scissors and attempted to categorize. This is when I had to begin locking the closet in my office because I had a long row of stacks of tiny papers with a yellow post-it atop each stack that read things like “SCHOOL” and ‘BETTERMENT” and “MARRIAGE.” Again, something that could easily implicate me as a sociopath.

Lastly, I hate the title. The only alternative I could think of was “Shit Creek: A Navigational Guide (Exit Not Guaranteed)”.

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On Audience Mid-month I attended a literary area festival in New Orleans (the one literary festival in New Orleans). I’d planned to go all year but I was privately hoping it’d recharge me in the way that residency does. What it did was make me want to read other people’s books, and did nothing to spawn ideas of my own, but there was a panel discussion that I keep thinking about. I don’t remember the topic of the panel, but the discussion had turned to writing with a specific audience in mind. A man named Kiese Layton (whose book I would very much like to read but they had SOLD OUT of it at the festival…I didn’t know that happened at literary festivals) was saying that no one writes to young black women and that young black people in general are alienated from literature because no one writes with them in mind. I am positive that this is true, but the idea he brought up—writing creatively for a specific audience—scared the shit out of me. I do that every day in copywriting—I have to—(e.g. “is this targeted to the accounts payable manager or to the c-level executive?”), but I actively try to erase any kind of audience when writing creatively. I have a hard enough time not writing with my advisor in mind, which is absurd, and surely nothing good can come of it. Finally, one of the panelists, Laura Van Der Berg, said exactly what I was thinking, that if she had to write with a specific audience in mind, she would never write a thing. And then, that she has to fool herself into believing that no one will ever read what she’s writing, that she is doing it only for herself. And she is a fiction writer!

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On Micheline Ahoronian Marcom I was intrigued by Marcom after reading her interview on NC. I chose Mirror in the Well over her other novels because it was about sex (or “unhindered uncensored female sexuality” as she put it on NC) and the others were about…well, I can’t remember because it was something other than sex. Easy choice.

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On Viktor Shklovsky I swear to you that I am not shirking the reading list we drafted. I did open Viktor Shklovsky several times this month in the hopes that he would provide me a succinct and formal statement about theme that I could supplant Mary Ruefle’s with in my critical essay. He did not, unless he called it by a different word, like “motif”, but still, I failed to make a connection to my critical thesis (Damn you, Shklovsky!). I am finding reading him to be like eating flourless chocolate cake—wonderful but dense as hell, thus I can only digest a little bit at a time.

—Annie Bleecker

 

 

Annie Bleecker lives in New Orleans, where she writes ad copy for accounts payable automation software by day and creative nonfiction by night. She is pursuing an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

 

Apr 072014
 

Here’s a screenshot from the current Indigo Books page for my book of short stories A Guide to Animal Behaviour. See the highlighted tags under the menu bar. The book is being marketed as “zoology” thus demonstrating a COMPLETE LACK OF IRONY in the data input department (I restrain myself from accusing Indigo as a whole, though if the shoe fits…).

Why do I find this hilarious? Perhaps it’s the total naivete. At Indigo, you CAN judge a book by its cover.

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Apr 052014
 

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Kurt Cobain died 20 years ago today. Here’s a longish interview with him. In the opening, he talks about his favourite book and how it influenced him — Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Actually, a surprisingly thoughtful and amiable interview. Aura of sadness. Poverty at the back of story after story. I’ve never noticed this interview before. So it startled me.

His song “Scentless Apprentice” came from the novel.

Below are the trailer and the birth scene from the movie based on the novel (not for the faint of heart).

Put this all together and what do you have?

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Apr 052014
 

Turned cold, started to snow last night, huge feather-shaped flakes falling in the pools of water, deep pools of slush, am not going outside ever again, all is lost, moribund and obscure. Then I found this post at Distractify (am reading student manuscripts so naturally anything with the word “distract” in it distracts me.

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View the rest of the images and text @ Distractify

Apr 032014
 

 Okay, not to be morbid, but this is a hoot. Now I have a plan for rebinding my collected works after I am gone (note to self: rewrite will, inform sons). So much better than a jar of ashes.

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The book’s 794th and final page includes an inscription in purple cursive: ‘the bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.’

via Harvard discovers three of its library books are bound in human flesh | Roadtrippers.

Apr 022014
 

What does a typical day look like for you? How much time you spend writing? Do you have any routines that you find help foster productivity?

I am not an ideal writer, I’m afraid. I live pretty much like everyone else, well, everyone else who doesn’t have a day job. Put the dog out, coffee, look at the news, do some work, put the dog out, coffee, run some errands, talk to my mother, go to the gym, walk the dog, talk to my girlfriend, talk to my sons, put the dog out, more coffee, scotch, and a book at bedtime. Up until recently, my two sons were living with me and my day bent around them, their needs and schedules. But they are both away at university now. None of this is noteworthy or mysterious. I am an intermittent writer, which is fine with me. And, aside from the annual virgin sacrifice in the woods behind my house, I don’t do anything to foster productivity.

Read the rest @ Douglas Glover – nineteenquestions.

Apr 012014
 

Rich Gun-001

Every issue we change the contents of the slider at the top of the front page. So much deserving material in the archives — it’s always a bit of a chore choosing what should go there.

This time we decided to celebrate a writer who has quietly and diligently been a mainstay of Numéro Cinq, a trusted co-conspirator and a friend. Richard Farrell was one of the original cadre of students who helped start NC in January, 2010. He’s the only remaining member of that class (there were three others). And if you look at his NC Archive Page, you’ll see that he’s made a huge contribution to the magazine from the very beginning. In fact, it looks like he’s written a book on these pages; now he needs a publisher for it.

One of the inside rules on NC is that we don’t publish a person’s own particular work in the magazine (except in rare circumstances after several years of indentured servitude — not to mention that it has to be damn good). Richard Farrell is primarily a fiction writer, but on the pages of NC he has remade himself into a terrific essayist, memoir writer, orator, book reviewer and interviewer — a man of letters, in short. His essays are pungent, eloquent and heartfelt, full of a rare candor and self-reflection. Go to his archive page; it’s amazing. Dip into his work; read it all. Admire his reach, his curiosity, his ability to turn memory into parable, and above all his heart.

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Apr 012014
 

About midnight, I went to let Lucy out and realized that in the past couple of hours we’d had nearly a foot of new snow. This after two days of steady sleet and snow mixed. The plow guy came twice over the weekend. He’ll have to come again in the morning. In the kitchen just now, Mark looked at me and said, “This never happened before you came to live here.”

The light is terrible and I can’t take pictures, but I wanted you to get a sense of what being a Writer-in-Residence is like, the stark grandeur of the elements, the threat of imminent death by exposure and starvation. I ate my last can of Irish stew tonight. There is nothing left to eat but banana bread Clarissa brought home from a wake Saturday. Rob has a half-eaten carton of Gelato. We’ll be fighting each other for that soon enough.

It’s now officially April 1.

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Waterloo Row from the front second floor window.

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Out the back door.

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Walking out toward the street.

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The front of the house.

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Lucy waiting by the backdoor.

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Mark finishing his book. This is the literary part of the post.

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Mar 312014
 

Julie Jacobson

Julie Jacobson is an Athabaskan native from the Copper River Basin in Alaska now living on a ranch in Colorado, one of those people who live stories. All she has to do is peek out the window or remember an old auntie and the words come spilling out of her, assured and exhilarating. She’s my student at Vermont College of Fine Arts this semester; her packet cover letters read like great essays, they read like this—

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March 8

I am writing this in my ranch truck, watching a cow try to have a calf.  It must be a big boned thing, because her mother has been up and down four times and can’t get the position right to push.  Sometimes they have to stand up, walk a bit, then try again.  The front legs have to come first and I’ve seen the silver bag around two hooves a couple times now.  She just needs to get “comfortable”.

Hopefully my husband, Brent, will be home today (he is in Denver with his mom, who is in the hospital again) and I can get off calving watch (which means checking every four hours in good weather – I’ve had 6 beautiful black babies since Tuesday night) and back to the kitchen table to finish.  Today I moved 92 head and pulled two circles of electric fence with my 12 year old.  He is good company and getting to be quite a hand.  The farmers we lease from are pissed that we are not off their ground yet, so I’m under the gun to get it all done yesterday.

So, the cow finally had her calf.  On her own.  Which is good, because I’m always a little nervous about being a doctor out in the mud with anxious mothers all around me.  My son’s iPod battery is dead so we will make one last pass through the mothers-to-be and head home.

March 31

I’m doing well, just writing today.  It is windy as hell here.  The terrible howling, sky darkening, dirt blowing kind that closes roads and schools.  I can see the dust come in the tiny gaps in the doors and windows and settle uniformly on my kitchen table and laptop.  I don’t know why anyone ever thought this would be good country to live in.  Miserable for livestock, too.  When we drove through the cows this morning, we noticed that their eyes are all clotted up and pressed shut against the shit dust forced on them in swirls around the windbreaks and bare trees.

I have a new baby calf in my bathtub,  born last night and feeble like he isn’t sure if he wants to live yet or not.  His mother died, so we are going to try to graft him on to another cow when the wind settles this afternoon.  We lost twins night before last and that mother (K.A. #74 Orange tag) is heartbroken.  We have been trying to graft a crooked faced calf off of a thin poor milking cow (K.A. #802 yellow tag) to her, but I’m not sure if she wants to be a mother bad enough yet.  I’m writing about the grafting experience.  Maybe I’m simple, but it is really something.  It reminds me so much of experiences I’ve heard of and had with humans – in a stripped down sort of way.

It is time to check cows again.  The wind has slowed down and we are going to skin one of the dead calves and put the “coat” on the crooked faced calf, milk the foster mother out, bottle feed the calf and then pour the rest of the milk on him and his new coat to help trick the cow into taking him.  Wish me luck.

—J. M. Jacobson

Mar 282014
 

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Next month it’s the spring fever issue, ecstatic, green, ebullient, warm-hearted and inspiring. Look for it starting April 1.

The cornerstone of the issue is an essay by the amazing Genese Grill (scholar, artist, translator of Robert Musil) that goes straight to the heart of the matter — “Apologia: Why Do We Write” — accompanied by panels from an accordion book she made from one of her own essays.

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Poet and classicist D. M. Spitzer contributes a truly marvelous essay, a mythology, as it were, lapidary, moving, sentences carved into the page.

Unspool the thread given by Ariadne, in whom the ecstasy of oblivion awaits the coming of Dionysos.  The end precedes the beginning and a certain movement of form collects both.  Dionysos already presents himself in the form of desire.  Unspool the thread down narrowing and widening passages.  Daidalos, poet-exemplar, modulates light and darkness, clarity and obscurity in the labyrinth.  To isolate the final cause of this structure, peel away at the Minotaur:  Minos and shame, Pasiphaë and desire, desire and the god of translation (Zeus).  Dionysos stands at the threshold of the labyrinth and in the mind of the poet-architect.  Into the sacred labyrinth let thread follow.  Thread protects against loss and wandering and a hungry monster inhabits the structure.  Monster is monstrum, something that elicits wonder, a marvel.

Risk:  to be consumed by the hunger and isolation that motivates wonder.

Where is poetry?

Heaney painting

April 13 would have been Seamus Heaney’s 75th birthday, and to honour the occasion and remember the poet, Contributing Editor Patrick J. Keane (who knew the poet) has sent in a powerful essay revisiting Heaney’s most compelling and controversial collection North, written after the poet left Northern Ireland in the wake of sectarian violence.

And yet we find…a poet, or file, scattering, not the spent ashes of partisan politics and sectarian hatred, but those vestigial yet undying “sparks”—his inspired words—among us all.

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And from Jason Lucarelli (our resident Gordon Lish expert), an in-depth interview with the amazing poet, short story writer and novelist extraordinaire Victoria Redel.

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We also have Natalie Helberg’s review of Robert Coover’s massive new novel The Brunist Day of Wrath and Richard Farrell’s review of the new Lorrie Moore collection Bark.

What lengths will we go to in order to avoid being alone? Why are we so hell-bent on love? These are age-old questions, ones that philosophers, poets and priests have been unable to answer. Moore’s rendering of scenes, her dramatization of the beginnings and endings of love, is nothing short of a profound examination of the quintessence of the human condition. Why do we love? Why do we tell stories or create art? We are trying to close the gap, between self and other, between idea and reality, between life and death. —Richard  Farrell

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And a translated excerpt from the novel Where the Women by the great contemporary Spanish novelist Álvaro Pombo, translated and introduced by the inimitable Brendan Riley.

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Where the Women is an eloquent and reflective novel, virtuously transparent and believable, an intriguing balance of sentimental exploration and psychological insight. Álvaro Pombo’s lyrical prose achieves a finely shaded composition of intimate reveries, disdainful bourgeois chatter, modern cynicism, and tightly reined irony which allows the narrator’s clear, thoughtful, and often humorous voice to carry us from beginning to end with impressive sustain, fluidity, and conviction. 

And for sheer fun (as well as, you know, a lesson on how to write songs), nothing can beat the song and commentary essay by Ian Bell “Signor Farini” (a song about the legendary tightrope walker).

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We have also Summar West’s review of  Leslie Ullman’s new poetry collection Progress on the Subject of Immensity.

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And poems! We have poems. Poems by the inimitable Julie Larios.

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Poems and Spanish translations from John B. Lee, and also more poems from Elaine Handley, in this case a series of ekphrastic texts to go with the art work of Marco Montanari.

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And more, just tons more. Gerard Beirne’s Uimhir a Cúig this time features a short story from the Irish writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir; there’s a jewel of an essay with photos from Shawna Lemay; Jacob Glover pens an essay on comparative texts, Gore Vidal and his Latin source on the anti-Christian Emperor Julian the Apostate; also the conclusion of Robert Day’s serial novel Let Us Imagine Lost Love; R. W. Gray’s Numéro Cinq at the Movies features a commentary by the actress Allison Mack.

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Mar 242014
 

Lucy & dg in the surfDG & Lucy at Lawrencetown Beach outside Halifax. Photo by Jacob Glover.

DG has been on the road for eons, it seems, reading from Savage Love, being a Writer-in-Residence. He has finished many books along the way including Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (very long) and three Evelyn Waugh novels, hitherto kept on hand for emergencies. A new essay is forming: “Novel Structure Lite” (more on this another time). We were in Halifax for the March 13 reading at the University of King’s College, which I’ve already written about). But then we stayed on and went to the beach (yes, Halifax, compared to Fredericton, is positively sub-tropical).

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Here’s another picture (bad lighting, I know) from King’s, Jacob introducing dg.

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Then dg and Lucy at Lawrencetown Beach again. She gets very excited about surf. Note dg’s trademark camo cargo pants and baseball cap purchased at a high-end art boutique in Venice.

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dg and Lucy Lawrencetown Beach

Then home to Fredericton briefly and on to Saint John. My hotel room gave onto the harbour (when I was extremely young, I covered the port for the local daily newspaper — I was there when the first container cranes started working).

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And here is the Martello Tower in West Saint John (behind the container terminal), which figures prominently in dg’s short story “The Obituary Writer” from which the name Numéro Cinq is taken. It was cloudy, rainy, windy — everything looked a bit, well. forsaken.

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The port in Saint John is at the mouth of the Saint John River (which goes by Mark Jarman’s house where I live in Fredericton). In Saint John, the river flows one way part of the time and then it flows the other way (hence the famous Reversing Falls just upstream from the port). Just above the Reversing Falls is the giant Irving paper mill.

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As a cub reporter, dg once helped police snag a drowned man out of the river on the rocks just across from the mill. The man had been in the water for a very long time, and parts of him were falling off as he came to shore. This, too, became a short story with the gruesome title “Floater,” one of those stories that got published in a magazine and then never reprinted (for really good reasons not to be dwelt upon).

And here’s the newspaper building where dg worked. It was then called The Evening-Times Globe (I took this picture through the car window at a stop light — a noble genre).

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DG worked here for a year. There was a printing press on  the lower floor, a lovely old thing with bells and the smell of lead and oil. Now it’s no longer there. The newspaper is printed in Moncton. The building backs onto Courtney Bay with the huge Irving Oil refinery and docks and transshipment terminal.

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All this is kind of dull as imagery, but somehow it wreaked of old excitement and familiarity to dg (despite the wind, rain, sleet, etc.) who was something like 23 at the time (and, yes, dreamed of sailing away on a steamer).

Friday (March 21) was the Moncton reading, at the Aberdeen Cafe, hosted by Lee Thompson who took pictures. (Note dg’s beer strategically placed on a spare baby’s highchair within reach of the microphone.)

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For the Saint John-Moncton epic, Lucy stayed home.

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Last stop, a reading at Odd Sundays at Molly’s in Fredericton this coming Sunday.

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Mar 212014
 

BlackTights

Nothing but astonishing, smashing, gorgeous prose and art all the way through. NC is the magazine with at turn of phrase, second to none, produced by a cadre of brilliant young writers (and some of us not so young, who add gray hair to brilliance). We have style, panache and cool. And we do it every month!

IMG_0486Bianca Stone

In her luscious interview with Nance Van Winckel, Bianca Stone says:

And when I draw—poof! There’s suddenly a physical thing there, that can talk, that can move. And I take advantage of that. The body itself, the air around the body, the expression on the face—these things can work just like a poem. Speaking, but not saying everything.

DSC_0046Susan Sanford Blades

In her punk rock anti-romance “Poseurs,” Susan Sanford Blades writes:

The real lead singer was Damian Costello. He was not 1983 beautiful. His hair had not made the acquaintance of gel. His testicles had not been heated to the point of sterility by a pair of tight, acid-washed jeans. His beauty transcended decades. God, how he moved. Skinny and lithe as a garden hose.

Sebastian EnnisSebastian Ennis

And in his review of the reissue of William H. Gass’s On Being Blue, Sebastian Ennis writes:

The first blue words of this book seem to form “a soft quality in the air, a color, a flutter: permanent in their passage.” Like starling murmurations on cold winter mornings, for Gass, blue is a thought without a centre; meaning softly gathers around the word the way lint collects and, at the turn of a forgotten page, takes flight. In this sense of the word, Gass writes in blue with the language of birds…

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Benjamin Woodard reviews Lydia Davis’s new book of stories, Richard Farrell interviews David Shields, Adam Segal reviews Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu and introduces a brilliant excerpt from the novel.

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Actually, I am a bit stunned at this issue. Name after name, stellar piece of writing after stellar piece of writing, trenchant commentary, mischievous wit.

Don’t miss Natalia Sarkissian’s essay and photos on boar hunting in Tuscany. I can’t resist a pun: Natalia has a way of going straight for the guts of a story.

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And poetry? Julie Larios expatiates on Eugenio Montale, translation, and reputation in her new Undersung,

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A. Anupama reviews Gillian Conoley’s new collection Peace,

Gillian-Conoley-448Gillian Conoley

and we have poems from Ralph Angel’s brand new collection Your Moon

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as well as the amazing and entire Code Orange Emblazoned Suite from Karen Mulhallen.

And even then, not done, for there are the amazing bilingual (Irish/English) poems of the, yes, still more amazing, Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

2014 bio photo colour doireannDoireann Ní Ghríofa

Also Patrick J. Keane’s eloquent and erudite and compulsively readable (and important) essay parsing the grammar of race in Robinson Crusoe and The Tempest.

Patrick J Keane 2Patrick J. Keane

(Are we done? I ask the angel on my shoulder. Are we done? Or is there more? Where does it come from?

Yes, yes, there’s more!)

Laura K. WarrellLaura K. Warrell

Laura K. Warrell reviews the new Robin Oliveira novel I Always Loved You and Steven Axelrod pens a paen to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

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I finally, finally, R. W. Gray’s Numéro Cinq at the Movies — Patrice Leconte’s Girl on a Bridge — PLUS the seventh and penultimate section of Robert Day’s magical expanding serial novel Let Us Imagine Lost Love (last section to come in the next — the fabulous April — issue).

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Mar 192014
 

Trollope

I just finished reading Anthony Trollope‘s gargantuan satirical novel The Way We Live Now, one of those Victorian multi-volume serial novels, 100 chapters, any number of plots and subplots, family groupings, sybaritic and impecunious lords, scandalously sleazy investment bankers, women looking for rich husbands, poor nobles looking for rich wives, a stock market crash, hack writers, and so on. Trollope is especially good at depicting the moral life of the modern person, the tiny spiritual evasions, denials, and displacements that get us through and around the moral contretemps of daily life. But the novel has also been cited recently (see Robert McCrum in the Guardian last month) as a literary precursor of the various dot.com and real estate bubbles of the last couple of decades (in The Way We Live Now, everyone takes a flyer on a semi-mythical company meaning to build a railway from San Francisco to Mexico). Trollope is also very funny.

But he is especially and slyly perceptive about the interaction of the mass media, literature, politics and finance. No one, not even the literary crowd, escapes the death ray of his satire. The novel begins with Lady Carbury finishing up her lightly-researched history book Criminal Queens of the World, her first foray into literary production. And it ends with Lady Carbury finishing her second book, a novel (which she wrote in a few weeks on the clock — no waiting for inspiration or an MFA in her world). In some ways, she’s a caricature of her own creator. Trollope never started writing till he had a contract, and his contracts always stipulated dates and numbers of words. And then, once started, he wrote very fast, barely stopping for a rest (or to write something else). In the case of The Way We Live Now, he scheduled himself 32 weeks to write a novel that came out to something over 800 printed pages.

In any case, here’s how Lady Carbury wrote Wheel of Fortune — from Chapter 89 of the The Way We Live Now

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THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE

It was a long time now since Lady Carbury’s great historical work on the Criminal Queens of the World had been completed and given to the world. Any reader careful as to dates will remember that it was as far back as in February that she had solicited the assistance of certain of her literary friends who were connected with the daily and weekly press. These gentlemen had responded to her call with more or less zealous aid, so that the “Criminal Queens” had been regarded in the trade as one of the successful books of the season. Messrs. Leadham and Loiter had published a second, and then, very quickly, a fourth and fifth edition; and had been able in their advertisements to give testimony from various criticisms showing that Lady Carbury’s book was about the greatest historical work which had emanated from the press in the present century. With this object a passage was extracted even from the columns of the “Evening Pulpit,”—which showed very great ingenuity on the part of some young man connected with the establishment of Messrs. Leadham and Loiter. Lady Carbury had suffered something in the struggle. What efforts can mortals make as to which there will not be some disappointment? Paper and print cannot be had for nothing, and advertisements are very costly. An edition may be sold with startling rapidity, but it may have been but a scanty edition. When Lady Carbury received from Messrs. Leadham and Loiter their second very moderate cheque, with the expression of a fear on their part that there would not probably be a third,—unless some unforeseen demand should arise,—she repeated to herself those well-known lines from the satirist,—

“Oh, Amos Cottle, for a moment think
What meagre profits spread from pen and ink.”

But not on that account did she for a moment hesitate as to further attempts. Indeed she had hardly completed the last chapter of her “Criminal Queens” before she was busy on another work; and although the last six months had been to her a period of incessant trouble, and sometimes of torture, though the conduct of her son had more than once forced her to declare to herself that her mind would fail her, still she had persevered. From day to day, with all her cares heavy upon her, she had sat at her work, with a firm resolve that so many lines should be always forthcoming, let the difficulty of making them be what it might. Messrs. Leadham and Loiter had thought that they might be justified in offering her certain terms for a novel,—terms not very high indeed, and those contingent on the approval of the manuscript by their reader. The smallness of the sum offered, and the want of certainty, and the pain of the work in her present circumstances, had all been felt by her to be very hard. But she had persevered, and the novel was now complete.

It cannot with truth be said of her that she had had any special tale to tell. She had taken to the writing of a novel because Mr. Loiter had told her that upon the whole novels did better than anything else. She would have written a volume of sermons on the same encouragement, and have gone about the work exactly after the same fashion. The length of her novel had been her first question. It must be in three volumes, and each volume must have three hundred pages. But what fewest number of words might be supposed sufficient to fill a page? The money offered was too trifling to allow of very liberal measure on her part. She had to live, and if possible to write another novel,—and, as she hoped, upon better terms,—when this should be finished. Then what should be the name of her novel; what the name of her hero; and above all what the name of her heroine? It must be a love story of course; but she thought that she would leave the complications of the plot to come by chance,—and they did come. “Don’t let it end unhappily, Lady Carbury,” Mr. Loiter had said, “because though people like it in a play, they hate it in a book. And whatever you do, Lady Carbury, don’t be historical. Your historical novel, Lady Carbury, isn’t worth a—” Mr. Loiter stopping himself suddenly, and remembering that he was addressing himself to a lady, satisfied his energy at last by the use of the word “straw.” Lady Carbury had followed these instructions with accuracy.

The name for the story had been the great thing. It did not occur to the authoress that, as the plot was to be allowed to develop itself and was, at this moment when she was perplexed as to the title, altogether uncreated, she might as well wait to see what appellation might best suit her work when its purpose should have declared itself. A novel, she knew well, was most unlike a rose, which by any other name will smell as sweet. “The Faultless Father,” “The Mysterious Mother,” “The Lame Lover,”—such names as that she was aware would be useless now. “Mary Jane Walker,” if she could be very simple, would do, or “Blanche De Veau,” if she were able to maintain throughout a somewhat high-stilted style of feminine rapture. But as she considered that she could best deal with rapid action and strange coincidences, she thought that something more startling and descriptive would better suit her purpose. After an hour’s thought a name did occur to her, and she wrote it down, and with considerable energy of purpose framed her work in accordance with her chosen title, “The Wheel of Fortune!” She had no particular fortune in her mind when she chose it, and no particular wheel;—but the very idea conveyed by the words gave her the plot which she wanted. A young lady was blessed with great wealth, and lost it all by an uncle, and got it all back by an honest lawyer, and gave it all up to a distressed lover, and found it all again in the third volume. And the lady’s name was Cordinga, selected by Lady Carbury as never having been heard before either in the world of fact or in that of fiction.

And now with all her troubles thick about her,—while her son was still hanging about the house in a condition that would break any mother’s heart, while her daughter was so wretched and sore that she regarded all those around her as her enemies, Lady Carbury finished her work, and having just written the last words in which the final glow of enduring happiness was given to the young married heroine whose wheel had now come full round, sat with the sheets piled at her right hand. She had allowed herself a certain number of weeks for the task, and had completed it exactly in the time fixed. As she sat with her hand near the pile, she did give herself credit for her diligence. Whether the work might have been better done she never asked herself. I do not think that she prided herself much on the literary merit of the tale. But if she could bring the papers to praise it, if she could induce Mudie to circulate it, if she could manage that the air for a month should be so loaded with The Wheel of Fortune, as to make it necessary for the reading world to have read or to have said that it had read the book,—then she would pride herself very much upon her work.

—Anthony Trollope from The Way We Live Now

Mar 152014
 

Savage Love Cover

I know you are all breathless keeping up with my meandering ways. Some clarification follows.

I’m reading at the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus Wednesday night, a return visit, not sure, in fact, if I’ve been there since I taught philosophy at in the early 1970s. I am wondering if the place has changed, though I remember this building (Ganong Hall), named for a New Brunswick chocolate-making family. I may have said this before, but when I taught Schopenhauer to undergrads at UNBSJ, I had the longest hair on campus. Those were great times. I sometimes held classes in my apartment, which I shared with a guy named Wolfy (who had no teeth) and which contained no furniture (we all sat around the living room parquet drinking wine and burning holes in the floor with candles listening to Carole King’s Tapestry — I dunno, I was about twelve at the time). Once a student of mine, returning from a class, was discovered by police asleep in his car parked on a railroad crossing in the early hours of the following morning. (Should I be saying this before my reading?) As I recall, the police were very understanding and followed him home.

The next evening, Thursday, I’ll be giving my generative workshop (lesson, prompts, exercises — everyone will come out writing like Leo Tolstoy or James Joyce).

And the evening after that I read at the Attic Owl Reading Series in Moncton.

Then I will go home to Fredericton and rest for five minutes.

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Mar 142014
 

So dg read from Savage Love at the University of King’s College in Halifax last night, hosted by the King’s Co-op Bookstore. DG’s son Jacob did the introduction, a first, a sweet & unsurpassable moment not vouchsafed many writers (or fathers). The lighting was a bit dim, but here is a photo, just for the record.

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