Oct 262014

Self-portrait-gouache12x9Paul Sattler, self-portrait.

I really never know how an NC issue is going to come to shape in the end, what obsessions lurk in the editors or the minds of the contributors. This one circles the macabre, with death and violence at its core, but, yes, still ardent, beautiful, uncanny.

Paul Sattler went to Italy last summer intent upon the composer Gesualdo, “riddled with violence, paranoia and personal demons – including a jealousy-fueled murder of his wife and her lover.” Mary Kathryn Jablonski curates here painting, sketches and Sattler’s own notebook entries in a piece called “Radical Amazement.”

pic 2 deathtube

Fernando Sdrigotti, the Argentinian expatriate author living in London, has become an aficionado of the contemporary art form of video death (recently made popular by ISIS with its series). Sdrigotti’s essay begins with a stringent meditation on the execution scene in Antonioni’s The Passenger.

Shot on 16 mm, in saturated colours, the grainy footage depicts a public execution on a faraway African beach. We see the prisoner handled by guards, then tied to a pole by the sea, a priest having his final say, locals gathered to witness the spectacle, a coffin waiting. A firing squad is in charge of taking this man’s life and soon the first volley of shots hits his body. The camera zooms in, to an out of focus close up of his face.

Fernando SdrigottiFernando Sdrigotti

Bruce StoneBruce Stone

And then we have Bruce Stone’s brilliant, trenchant, mesmerizing fictional portrayal of a mass-murdering teenager, reminding us of that which we do not want to be reminded, that evil can invent its own reasons. It begins eerily, and we know exactly where it is going.

This is gonna hurt a little. The shooter mouths these words in a hush, the syllables squashed and slurred, just coded exhalations of cotton mouth and brimstone, aimless as smoke rings, not quite turned to purpose vis-à-vis the face of the woman behind the plate glass. With one hand beyond the shooter’s line of sight, she’s got a death grip, he knows, on the handle of the guard door, all of the blue veins bulging wildly, desperate to halt his ingress.

Sam Savage. Photo by Nancy Marshall.

NC newcomer Jeff Bursey reviews Sam Savage’s new novel It Will End with Us. Like Modernist and Postmodernist writers, Savage prefers to dislodge certainty from its purchase rather than provide sudden plot twists. Eve sums it up: “If I had to describe my situation in a word… it would be indeterminate.”

Fig.1-StevenSmulka-SolarSystemSteven Smulka. “Solar System.”

From Spain, the critic Maria Jesús Hernáez Lerena sends a gorgeous essay on hyperrealism in painting and the fiction of Canadian novelist Lisa Moore.

…a basic idea that underlies much of the theories of Susan Sontag, John Berger, and Jacques Rancière: the belief in the dichotomy between seeing and understanding. John Berger’s quote “Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight” (1972, 7) points at this basic premise: an awareness of the mismatch between what we perceive through our sense of sight and the elaborations of discourse. The idea that the image does not make you understand, that it only activates your sensory system…

San Sebastian-2014Maria Jesús Hernáez Lerena in San Sebastian.

CaptureOedipus and the Sphinx (detail) by Gustave Moreau.

The American critic Warren Motte (introduced the NC some months ago by our indefatigable Contributing Editor Julie Larios) delves into myth, mirrors and those broody Scandinavian detective novels so popular these days.

Another moment, again involving Lisbeth Salander, occurs in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it is far more difficult to dismiss: “She had a dazzling view of Lake Zürich, which didn’t interest her in the least. But she did spend close to five minutes examining herself in the mirror. She saw a total stranger” (442-43). The encounter is far more uncanny than the one in The Girl Who Played with Fire. The abyss between the self and the reflection of the self yawns more broadly, and the language is more uncompromising. Reason tells us to interpret this figuratively, but desire urges us to read it literally. In this instance, one can really go either way; it is a shining example, I think, of a passage that teeters in precarious equilibrium right on the brink of this third and final type of mirror scene. Sort of like a funambulist, in other words. And what is it about funambulists that fascinates us, other than the possibility that they might fall off the wire? It is the very precariousness of their situation that keeps us breathless….

CaptureLisbeth Salander looking in a mirror in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

SharonSharon McCartney

From the amazing poet Sharon McCartney sent in poems that strike out into completely new territory, mythic, aphoristic, terse and wise, a long poem, Metanoia, a meditation on love and marriage, dry, acerbic, lonely, beautiful.

No man in my life, nothing to worry about. No one to disappoint.
A failure of nerve, perhaps, but peaceful.


All of that effort to make myself loveable only made me unloving.

Rich Pilot4Richard Farrell as a young pilot.

Senior  Editor returns to the roots of his art, the long joy and unraveling of his youthful dream to become a pilot. In this gorgeous memoir he brings to life his first solo flight, like first love, never to be forgotten, always a promise of what might have been.

For a moment, I thought I might throw up, not an uncharacteristic response from my body when faced with stressful situations (like asking a girl out for a date). The propeller twirled and the fuselage rattled. Only two choices remained: grow a pair and get going or pull the parking brake, open the door and run screaming for the woods. Gasping for breath at the end of the runway, this couldn’t have been how Yeager got started.

Frank Richardson bio pict 2Frank Richardson

Frank Richardson gives us a lively, fascinating essay on the art of the long sentence, the use and beauty of the serpentine text as practiced by the masters, Nicholson Baker, Faulkner, Bohumil Hrabal (who wrote a book that is one long sentence), Joyce, Mathias Énard, David Foster Wallace and more.

The closest analogy I can imagine is that discovering Proust’s long sentences was like discovering a new genre of music, as if I had lived my life without knowing there existed such things as symphonies. If prose is like music, then some types of writing must resonate with particular people just as we have different musical tastes, and Proust’s swirling syntax certainly resonated with me. Eyes opened, I pursued the subject and discovered the rich variety of ways other writers employ long sentences to dramatize the actions and thoughts of characters.

Reid and BorgesTranslator Alistair Reid and Borges (side by side, centre).

Julie Larios does a wonderful job excavating the reputations of the great forgotten or ignored poets in her Undersung series. Her regular trips to the cemeteries of the overlooked are an inspiration to us all, and she has the rare gift of being able to write gracefully about prosody and form. This month she explores and life and work of the peripatetic Scottish poet and translator, the man who almost singlehandedly made Borges a household name, Alistair Reid.

Over his lifetime Reid lived for extended periods in Majorca, Switzerland, Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic – on a ginger plantation – Mexico, England – in a houseboat on the Thames – and the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, where he finally settled in (or was settled by old age) until his death. The obituary Charles McGrath wrote in The New Yorker three days after Reid’s death opens with this line: “The poet and translator Alastair Reid, who died on Monday at the age of eighty-eight, had itchy feet.”

Mark Anthony JarmanMark Anthony Jarman

Mark Anthony Jarman, master prestidigitator, pyrotechnic writer, has a new book coming out in the spring, much anticipated. And we have a preview, one of the stories, “Exempt from the Fang,” from Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, forthcoming from Goose Lane Editions.

Eve and Tamika crave more sleep and the party animals cradle monstrous hangovers from their dubious cooking wine.  For a few cents more decent plonk can be had, but they scoop up huge jugs of cheap cooking wine, amazed by bargain prices, but this is stuff the Romans don’t drink.  At dawn they feel the hurt big time, at dawn they can barely move, can barely text or kill aliens.

In my arms I once carried my dead dog from the street where it had been hit by a driver who did not stop: my dog’s beautiful brown eyes lost their light to a machine, the brown eyes had no depth, no engagement, no awareness.  Some in the group have that dead canine look as we shuffle down the block to Michelangelo and the vaulted ceilings of Sistine Chapel.

Pushkin’s death mask.

Myler Wilkinson channels Russian writers, the ancient and the dead. Last year in the slush pile for a contest I found his story about the death of Chekhov (which won the contest). Here he does Pushkin, dead in a duel at 37.

I lay in the rain, in my strawberry shirt, red-on-red in a dale of Daghestan; I dreamt of mountain precipices, of crimson peaks, of a solitary sail seeking distant lands—and my blood grew cold and ran away. A fool of time.

And the Tsar said: A dog’s death for a dog.


Gonzalez ParkRigoberto Gonzalez

Sadness and childhood: perhaps no one other than Rigoberto Gonzalez can weave together a cheery boyhood, poverty and hunger with such dash, such energy. The life in the writing nearly belies the subject matter. But you ache reading this memoir.

The sound of chewing around me was deafening, and it took me back to that moment I had experienced hunger once before, when my father disappeared. Suddenly it all came back to me–how it felt as if my guts were tying knots around each other, how I came across a candle on my mother’s bureau, the one that released the scent of cinnamon, and how I couldn’t figure out how those teeth marks had gotten there, but now I did. I had always heard the grown-ups say that I would never be able to tell when my body was stretching because it happened gradually. But something inside me grew in an instant and I felt like shattering.

And, as usual, there is more, much more. A. Anupama reviews the new W. S. Merwin poetry collection, The Moon Before Morning. Charlie Geoghegan-Clements reviews the translation of  Nicola, Milan by Ludovico Pignatti Morano. Robert Day returns with another Close Encounters of the Literary Kind essay, this one about the poet Dave Smith. And, of course, Rob Gray is back with another NC at the Movies and Gerrard Beirne paints the page green with his amazing Irish Lit & Culture series Uimhir a Cúig (Number 5 in Irish).


Oct 242014

© 2014 Open Space Arts Society. All rights reserved Sam Shelstad and dg at the Open Space Gallery, Victoria. Photos by Miles Giesbrecht.


Cannibal characters, love, Hermann Broch, Numéro Cinq, Jane Eyre, and sundry other topics, more or less interesting, come up in this lively onstage interview I did at the Open Space Gallery in Victoria, October 8. The nominal topic was my book of stories Savage Love, from which I had just give a reading. My charming interlocutor was estimable Sam Shelstad, a well-published MFA student in the University of Victoria writing program. As my son Jonah once observed, I never answer the question asked, just compose whimsical responses loosely inspired by the question and whatever free associations come to mind as I wander on. I don’t know if this is a fault or a virtue.


© 2014 Open Space Arts Society. All rights reserved

Oct 242014


In time for Halloween, Senior Editor Jason DeYoung’s tale of horror, “Caulifloret,” is out over at Booth: A Journal.

I reach around her and open the door. Is it conveniently left unlocked, or is it luck? Either way, we leave imitation at the threshold as we kick and smear dead snow off our shoes. The lights are all off, but the interior is tilted with dimly lit spaces from the streetlamps gawping in from the windows. I’m happy to show her the house because I hope it will thrill her. It’s the one I picked just for her. The foyer is hardwood, and just beyond a beige carpet, deep-pile. And from the front door we can see the dining room with its broad mission-style table and a fixture above it dripping with little ocular crystals which catch and reflect the streetlamp’s glow and cast a spectral and muzzy art on the pale walls. At this table is where we’ll have family dinners, one day, after tonight.

Read the rest here.


Jason DeYoung lives in Atlanta, Georgia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including REAL: Regarding Arts & Letters, Corium, The Los Angeles Review, New Orleans Review, Monkeybicycle, Music & Literature, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Mystery Stories 2012. He is a Senior Editor at Numéro Cinq Magazine. He can be found on the web here: jasondeyoung.com

Oct 232014

© 2014 Open Space Arts Society. All rights reservedDouglas Glover reading at Open Space Gallery, Victoria. Photo by Miles Giesbrecht.


I hate to inundate you with all this stuff from my Victoria trip, but you all know I don’t get out much and hence my tendency to hyperventilate if I get over the county line. Here’s a the recording of my reading from Savage Love at the Open Space Gallery in Victoria. The art work behind me is by Tommy Ting and Dong-Kyoon Nam. The story is called “Pointless, Incessant Barking in the Night.” The reading is preceded by an introduction by my gracious hostess, who gives all the particulars of the event.


Oct 222014

My beloved and loyal fiction publisher, Goose Lane Editions, had its 60th birthday last month. Part of the celebration was the publication of a little boxed set of similarly designed small books, six@sixty, one short story each by esteemed Goose Lane authors over the years: Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady, Mark Anthony Jarman, Alden Nowlan (whose house I used to visit when he was alive, back when I was a reporter at the Evening Times-Globe in Saint John, New Brunswick), Shauna Singh Baldwin, and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, as well as me. All the books look like mine but in different colours. It’s a lovely gesture, a limited edition, simple and elegant. Also mine is very cute, like a book you can keep as a pet.

My story, “Woman Gored by Bison Lives,” is from my book A Guide to Animal Behaviour, which Goose Lane published in 1991. It was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction that year.

It’s a melancholy love story about a lesbian couple in Saskatoon. They watch an English tourist gored by a bison, and subsequently one of the lovers dies of cancer. I was learning to write aphorisms in those days. The story ends with a little run. This is the surviving lover talking to a three-year-old child: “There are certain things you have to know. Suicide is not an option. Life is always better under the influence of mild intoxicants. Masturbation is healthy, the sooner started the better. It’s a sin not to take love where you find it. That is the only sin.”

The story as a whole begins like this:

Days, while my husband is at work, Susan and I make love on the couch in her parents’ basement. It is a desperate thing to do, and we are both a little stunned by it. But something has pushed us to the edge of caring.

Gabriela, the baby, is upstairs sleeping, while Susan’s mother does housework or watches soap operas. We keep our clothes on, manacled at the ankles by a tangle of underwear, jeans and belts.  And when Susan comes, I press my palm across her lips to keep her from shouting out her joy.

I don’t know if we are in love. But we are both in need of solace, and our sex is a composition of melancholy and violence, as though we are seeking to escape and punish ourselves in the same act.


Back Cover


Oct 202014

DSCF9318At the end of the Victoria trip, dg spent an afternoon with the Coast Salish master carver Charles W. Elliott in his studio at the Tsarlip First Nation Reserve on the Saanich Peninsula north of the city. Above is a thunderbird atop of a Charles Elliott totem pole  in front of the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal High School just down the road from the studio.

DSCF9299Charles W. Elliott holding a print he designed as a symbol for the University of Victoria Indigenous Governance program.

Still processing this visit. Charles Elliott is an amazingly generous and intelligent artist, very articulate and personable. He took a lot of time to describe what he does. Coast Salish art is a formalist invention (which, naturally, makes is tremendously interesting to me) — he called it the Salish “system” — that involves the use of a finite set of motifs (e.g. thunderbird, raven, orca, etc.) and design elements (eyes, bracket shapes, lanceolate shapes, etc.). Often the smaller formal elements are fitted into a larger form that derives from a utilitarian space (house fronts, paddles, spoons, bowls, etc.). The print above, for example, is circular, a shape derived from the spindle whorl used by the native women to process wool. The artist fits larger motifs into the overall form and then fills the blank spaces with either smaller versions of a motif (or in inversion) or with repetitions of the abstract design elements. For example, the thunderbird wings contain eyes, brackets and lanceolate shapes. Beneath the thunderbird is an orca, and you can see the bracket shapes used down the whale’s back. The idea, Elliott says, is to bring the spaces “to life.” The large motifs refer to legends, myths, and powers (also, in some cases, clan and social organization elements), so they carry story and meaning to the viewer. But at the same time there is a purely design aspect to the art, a pleasing abundance and vivacity of structure. What’s truly interesting is how the abstract design elements can be used to imply naturalistic details (see the shins on the thunderbird’s legs).


Here’s the school front. Note the repetition of the structure: thunderbird on top of the pole, thunderbird on the from wall of the building, and the structure of the building as a whole is a thunderbird with wings. What you can’t see from the angle is that before the front door is an entryway in the shape of a bird again. To get into the school, students pass beneath the thunderbird’s wings. Also not the bracket shapes along the roof  line. And then think what a lively public art form this is.


DSCF9281This is Elliott’s studio with a huge ocean-going dugout canoe made of old growth cedar, a work in progress. On the left is the base of a new totem pole.

DSCF9282Studio again. Note the Che Guevara image, one of several, in the studio, also mentioned by Elliott. You can’t forget that the natives are a colonized and dispossessed people who wake up every morning and look around and see commuters racing up the highway to a city that covers the land that was once theirs spiritually and economically, land they never gave away in any sense proper to their own culture and way of thinking. Put yourself in their shoes. As Elliott said, it’s as if there is a constant cloud or blanket of colonization over the natives. How they could they forget and be pleased?

DSCF9297Little things all over the studio. Here’s a spinning fish lure in the shape of an octopus, the legs scalloped with those bracket patterns. Everything comes to life in this art world, inanimate objects, utilitarian objects.

DSCF9284So here’s a bronze spindle whorl (traditionally they were made of wood) made by Elliott’s 19-year-old son, Chas Elliott, who is learning the art from his father and brought this over to show us. If I remember correctly this is a seal (but I heard so much I might be misremembering). Mouth in the spindle opening. Flippers or paws to the side. Flippers accented with eye and bracket and lanceolate shapes. Here’s a link to show where both father and son appeared a couple of years ago.

DG with a “talking stick” (you would hand this to someone who would then hold the floor whole others listened). By now you should be able to distinguish some of the motifs and design elements.

DSCF9229Outside the studio looking at a totem pole in for repair after about 20 years in the field. Totem poles don’t last forever, obviously. This one needs to be shaved down to fresh wood and repainted. And there is some rot at the top that needs digging out and a plug put in. A sad thing is that native carvers like Elliott can only work with old growth timber. For some reason, the old growth trees grew slower, their tree rings are much closer together, and the wood is harder and more durable. Newer trees seem to grow faster (perhaps because they get more light), the rings are farther apart and the wood between is “punky.” There is hardly any old growth timber left. I won’t go on. This is just a taste of the visit with Elliott, an immense privilege, not to mention fascinating; I could go on and on.

—DG, photos mostly by MF

Oct 122014

DSCF8995Surprisingly, there are great swathes of clear cut forest all along the coastal road in the west. Sometimes the lumber companies leave a thin screen of trees along the road and sometimes not. Depressing to see. Most of the logs go straight to China these days.

DSCF9036Sombrio Beach (photo by MF). Behind us, makeshift tents and campsites occupied by surfers trying to dry out in the dense mist.

DSCF9135The Juan de Fuca Trail near Sombrio Beach.

IMG_2248DG at the University of Victoria First Peoples House as a guest of Taiaiake Alfred and the Indigenous Governance department, talking to grad students and faculty in the program. Not a great photo and dg looks particularly self-important, perhaps conducting a symphony, but it’s the only one and it preserves the moment.

First Peoples HouseHere’s the hall (without people). Amazing place modeled on the traditional Coast Salish long house.

tshirtTaiaiake Alfred presented dg with a coveted Indigenous Nationhood Movement tshirt, which meant a lot.

DSCF9172Harbor seal off the marina wharf in Mill Bay. They were playing all along the coast, some far out and diving with dramatic tail slaps. At Mill Bay we heard the tail slaps, saw loons and a kingfisher and then a bald eagle zoomed close overhead, all in about five minutes. DG stopped mentioning the seals to the locals because it marked him as a greenhorn.

DSCF9186Cow Bay, a touristified, single-street, old village on the coast, organic foods, organic baked goods, and one store that sold liquor and tools.

DSCF9214This is the so-called butter church on Comiaken Hill in the Cowichan Reserve, Cowichan Bay in the background to the right. Abandoned, it was the first church in the area, an ancient-looking chapel, on a hill that feels lonely, mysterious and sacred, empty grass field to the left where people were once buried, though most of the markers are down, one lone oak tree, low mountains all around except in the direction of the bay. Also a place of ill-memory because of treaties signed nearby in the 1850s. The church was built in 1870 with the help of natives who were paid with money earned from the sale of butter. Apparently.


DSCF9192St. Anne’s Church, just down the road from the butter church. Back in Victoria we had run into an ancient beekeeper who said his great- or great-great-grandfather was Chief George Tzouhalem of the Cowichan band. An Irishman who fought with Pickett at Gettysburg apparently came up the coast and married the chief’s 15-year-old daughter — this was the beekeeper’s line. He said to drive up to this place because old chief Tzouhalem is buried here and his grand-daughter bought a pink granite plinth and had it raised over the grave.  We walked all through this sombre place and finally, yes, did discover the plinth, raised by the grand-daughter Ettie George, just as the beekeeper had said. He had known Ettie and had stories.



DSCF9191Christianity is dissipating perhaps. The crosses all over the graveyard were mostly temporary markers. Occasionally, there was something more indicative of a different way of being. Later, I got to talk to a man who makes the grave markers, a social role passed down through his family, and he said the crosses are just places to put names now, not signs of belief. Alarming number of fresh graves in every native graveyard, signs of hard lives, poverty and the depression that goes with being a dispossessed and colonized people.

Oct 102014

© 2014 Open Space Arts Society. All rights reservedReading at Open Space Gallery, Victoria.

© 2014 Open Space Arts Society. All rights reservedPhoto credit: Miles Giesbrecht. Artists’ works: Tommy Ting (London), Dong-Kyoon Nam (Winnipeg).

DSCF8947Mist on the water. Strait of Juan de Fuca near Sooke.

DSCF9024DG on Sombrio Beach.

DSCF9150Port Renfrew otters (just before we saw the bear).

DSCF8791First Nations exhibit, Royal BC Museum.

DSCF8764Douglas Street.

DSCF8742The bookstore founded by Alice Munro and her first husband.

DSCF8907Breakwater (dark by the time dg got to the end).

Oct 092014



In this month’s Uimhir a Cúig, Like A Rolling Stone: Irish Language Literature and Art in a Modern Cultural Context, Liam Carson writes on how best to place “the Irish language and its literature at the heart of public life within a modern, energetic and multicultural framework.”   To that end, he co-founded IMRAM, a festival fusing poetry, prose and music. “The trick is to find the points where literatures and cultures meet. For me, it was obvious that Bob Dylan should be translated into Irish. His songs draw on a tradition with Gaelic roots, they have traditional themes, airs and lyrics that lend themselves perfectly to translation to Irish. ” As well as Dylan, IMRAM has featured translations of Leonard Cohen, Rilke, Marina Tsvetaeva, Van Morrison, Piaf and Brel. This year’s festival includes The Bob Marley Project featuring the best of Marley’s music translated into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock and performed by Liam Ó Maonlaí and acclaimed Belfast reggae band Bréag. The concert will feature Natty Wailer, a member of Marley’s original band.

Here Liam Ó Maonlaí reflects on his initial doubts that the project could even work at all.

—Gerard Beirne

Oct 012014

Jacob Glover

At the Top of the Page this month: essays and reviews, a selection of Jacob Glover‘s contributions to the magazine. Jacob Glover has been an accomplice, co-conspirator, helpful presence from the magazine’s inception. He’s contributed essays, reviews, translations, poems, blog posts, and contest entries (in the days when we ran contests), also performed as a singer-songwriter with his brother Jonah and allowed dg to post funny pictures of him now and then. He has done background layout and scouted and curated pieces for the magazine, most recently the Wayne Hankey essay on conversion and novel plots in the July issue. He entered into the spirit of the place from the start. He’s one of the old guard at NC. On the current masthead, only Rich Farrell can claim seniority.

Sep 292014

HarperStephen Harper

“Ottawa Confidential” is an absolutely hilarious satire on Harper and Canadian politics in general (without actually ever mentioning Harper by name) written from the point of view of the Prime Minister’s “intimate confidant,” his right hand man, a failed novelist (had to be) turned political hack (with a dog named Wags). This story really is brilliant, seething with dry wit. I have a list of quotable lines as long as my arm. “Of course, the Prime Minister was not exactly an old man, or even an adult, but something more along the lines of an enlarged boy.” “The Prime Minister further confided that as a child he had an imaginary friend, but when his parents found out about it they forced him to put it to death.”

via Ottawa Confidential: Fiction — Greg Hollingshead » From the Numéro Cinq Archives.

Sep 272014

pilgrim epigraph page

Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, once said that she didn’t know how anyone could read without a pencil in his hands; Anna Maria Johnson doesn’t just use a pencil, she uses lines, paint, a self-created concordance and icons to mark the patterns when she is reading. Johnson is an artist-writer-reader who has an uncanny instinct for making visual and synchronic what in a text seems abstract and sequential. After she is done with a paragraph, a page, a sequence of pages, you suddenly SEE the text come alive as a trembling matrix of vectors, internal references, and visual rhythms; reading, Anna Maria Johnson, renders text into a startling work of visual art. This is a wonderful ability and not just a parlor trick; reading for pattern is a key element in understanding authorial intention. Repetition is the heart of art. Too many readers skim a work once and never get to appreciate the tactile, erotic quality of great prose, the physical impulses of tension, insistence and resolution that form its inner structure. Anna Maria Johnson’s “reading” of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a delightful and astonishing work of hybrid art in itself, but it’s also a terrific lesson in HOW TO READ.

Read the essay @ A Visual Approach to Syntactical and Image Patterns in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Essay & Images — Anna Maria Johnson.

Sep 272014

Last spring, Hanif Kareishi took the stage at the Bath Literary Festival to expound on the mysteries of writing practice. He tapped the microphone, cleared his throat, then imparted his wisdom—Don’t Bother. “It’s probably 99.9 per cent who are not talented and the little bit that is left is talent. A lot of my students just can’t tell a story . . . It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don’t think you can.” Kareishi is the author of Buddha of Suburbia and Professor at London’s Kingston University. Read more of his thoughts here.

In the same vein, here is a pre-1964 gem from Flannery O’Connor, published in Mystery and Manners:

“The ability to create life with words is essentially a gift. If you have it in the first place, you can develop it; if you don’t have it, you might as well forget it. But I have found that the people who don’t have it are frequently the ones hell-bent on writing stories.”

Is Creative Writing the “biggest con-job in academia?” Is Kareishi just spouting the self-protective stuff of smug, vainglorious writers? Should we throw these thoughts out with the trash and quiet our inner critics? Should we listen and accept, finally, our places? I’d like to bring Hanif and Flannery together on my piano bench and teach them scales. The thumb goes under on the F. Keep your shoulder down. It’s a phrase, a sentence, louder at the top, soft at the bottom, like speaking. No need to cry. Listen to how others have done it. Scales can be learned. Sentences can be strengthened. Form can be taught. Yes, some people will always write, play, paint, speak spectacularly better than others. Why is the mystery.

If you are of the .1 percent with “talent” and have the gift to “create life with words,” check out these writing tips  in The Guardian. As for me, I’ve got a Beethoven Sonata to work on (a decade-long project) and a story to revise (three years in the making). After this, I’ll print out John Gardner’s quote and nail it to my wall: “More people fail at becoming successful businessmen than fail at becoming artists.”

—Martha Petersen


Sep 262014

Savage Love PB cover2 small(Click on the image to read reviews.)

“This was, hands down, the best book I read in 2013.” National Post

“…stories as radiant and stirring as anything available in contemporary literature.” Los Angeles Review of Books

“…demands comparison to McCarthy, Barry Hannah, Donald Barthelme, William Faulkner.” Music and Literature


Publisher’s web page.

Sep 242014

2-Salgado-The Party_180x190cm_2014_oil on canvasThe Party by Andrew Salgado

Art is the human/inhuman attempt to get at what is beyond the words, the thing that cannot be expressed, whether love or sadness or joy or awe. Paradox there, I know. If you’re writing words, how can you be trying to get beyond words? But you are. Think about it.

The amazing Canadian painter Andrew Salgado has a new exhibition going up October 7 in London called Storytelling; storytelling but with paintings, with images, oil on canvas, his medium for what cannot be communicated. We have excellent paintings and an interview curated by Numéro Cinq newcomer JC Olsthoorn.

Fritz at SrebrenicaSrebrenica Genocide Memorial, Tom Simpson Photo

Long story: in 2010 we published a gorgeous sequence of poems by the Bosnian-Canadian poet Goran Simić. Flash forward to this summer: I got in touch with Goran in Bosnia and he said sure but he needed some translation help. Contributing Editor Sydney Lea put me in touch with Tom Simpson at Philips Exeter Academy who knows Goran and has a personal stake in Bosnia. Tom flies to Sarajevo and he and Goran have what I can only say must have been a wonderful time together, sitting in Bosnian bars and coffee houses, mulling over the poems.  The result: We have in this issue a brand new, freshly translated (by Goran and Tom) sheaf of Goran Simić poems, plus a terribly moving, passionate memoir of Thomas Simpson’s travels in Bosnia, his friendships and epiphanies.You will have to read the poems and the essay; words fail, and the story of pain, loss and human will embodied in the word Bosnia can only be re-experienced in their art.

But wait, there’s more (ah, the endless adventure of editing NC): A week and a half ago, Tom wrote to say he’d gone to a Sydney Lea reading (they had never met before), and Syd had read a poem about and for Goran Simić that nearly brought Tom to tears. So I wrote to Syd and got the poem for NC. Much gratitude to Tom and Goran and Syd for combining on two continents to bring this to pass.

My imagination was born from my simple need
To be silent instead of cry
Because silence alone has the colour I am craving
To paint myself,
Which finds no place on the hardware store’s palette.

—Goran Simić

Goran SimicGoran Simić

Samuel Stolton in his brilliant brief essay “Plato, Heidegger, Kant & Habermas Play Pass the Parcel: Poiesis and the Philosophy of Art-Creation” turns the problem of art (the paradox of expressing the inexpressible) on its head: How do you create something out of nothing?  He then does a forensic analysis of the philosophy from Plato to Agamben and Habermas. I adore the concept herein of “weak thought,” the sort of  artistic noodling around that is neither focused or intentional but is a precursor to creation. But there is so much more.

Samuel StoltonSamuel Stolton

And Natalie Helberg (one of our own) contributes a stunningly dense and erudite essay on the great Canadian experimental novelist Gail Scott  (who can forget her first novel  Heroine?), focusing on Scott’s 2010/12 novel The Obituary with its complex overlapping point of view structure. The essay begins with a paradoxical question: “How to do justice to a text so rich that I could only do justice to it by repeating it exactly?”

Author PicGail Scott

And then because I have a dog and have always loved that J. R. Ackerley memoir My Dog Tulip, which, among other things is about love and communicating without words, we have a nice little review (by animal rescue activist Melissa Armstrong) of Han Dong’s new novella A Tabby-cat’s Tale just published by Frisch & Co in Berlin. (I also have a new dog in my life but will restrain myself from adding several irrelevant photos here. Just so you know.)

haystack-rock-e1407876106174-768x1024Melissa Armstrong talking with her dog.

We also have in this issue — at this point in the preview, the writing of the preview, I generally start to hyperventilate and need to breathe into a paper bag (or walk the dog) — scads of new fiction. First and foremost, a brief tale of the grisly and unspeakable (might as well keep the theme going), baby-selling, from Benjamin Woodard.

WoodardBenjamin Woodard

And then a fantastic story by Andrew F. Sullivan, one of my favourite young Canadian writers, a story of, yes, that thing you don’t usual talk about (if it happens to you — for me, only twice, and till now I have kept my mouth shut), of alien abduction called “Nights in the Tractorbeam.”

The first time they floated through the ceiling, Abbie Kirkland was naked. Life was full of constraints, obligations and restrictions—sleep was one chance to abandon all of that. Even in the winter months, she hated sleeping in her clothes. Quilts were piled up on the bed, but she and Derek floated right up through them, their skin lit up blue under in a wide circle of light. Derek wore only a ratty t-shirt, the armpits gaping holes. The clock read 3:00 AM, but Abbie could not speak or cry out. Her body was almost frozen, slowed down so every moment was an ache, an endless task. Her eyes could move, but all they saw was blue light and Derek beside her, his own face stuck half-way through a yawn. There was fear trickling out around the corners of his eyes, but he could not say a word. His teeth looked electric, sharpened in the light. Abbie wanted to scream, but then she passed through the ceiling, through the attic, through the roof of the farmhouse, and nothing could touch her.

AFSullivan-InsideAndrew F. Sullivan (who takes a good picture, too)

Also a gorgeous story by Timothy Dugdale (who has appeared before as a book reviewer): “Back Spin” — a terse, grim, Carver-esque piece on snow, dog-walking, and the thrashing death of a deer.

His father shone a flashlight. The deer was thrashing about, trying to right itself. But it was front legs were destroyed and blood covered its breast. His father gave Nieves the flashlight and took out a sledge hammer from the back of the truck. He stepped smartly to the deer and  swung. The deer wrenched its head from the blow and thrashed again. His father took another swing. The deer made a sound and moved and went still. A car whizzed by and then another.  “Hold that light steady, ” his old man said. Nieves watched his father pause at the top of his next swing, staring at the deer, choosing his place for delivery. The hammer dropped. The deer’s head exploded.

Timothy DugdaleTimothy Dugdale

We have more, much more (and I am past the hyperventilating mode). A lovely interview-with-poems from Ann Ireland who talks to the amazing wife and husband poetry-writing duo Roo Borson and Kim Maltman.

The Collaborators Kim Maltman and Roo Borson in their shared writing roomKim Maltman and Roo Borson in their shared writing space

And a review of the new Murakami novel by Steven Axelrod, a novel excerpt from Gladys Swan, another Numéro Cinq at the Movies by R. W. Gray who has recently been busy premiering his own film Zack and Luc at the Atlantic Film Festival and, yes, even another Uimhir a Cúig (a piece of NC that will always be Ireland) featuring an essay by Liam Carson on Irish language writers.

That should be enough. That should hold you, oh ravening beast readers of NC.


DSCF8568New dog at Casa NC.


Sep 212014

If fiction is an ordering of experience, point of view can define relationships within that expe­rience. Between readers and author there is the narrator who shapes the telling and manages the way we receive its characters and the story’s message. The point of view established in a text is based on assumptions about what narrators and char­acters understand and are capable of understanding, about what they can and can­not do in the world, and about what the world might offer in return. The concept itself implies, perhaps, that our knowledge of people and the world exists only as it is refracted through a mind. —Gary Garvin

Read the essay at Man in the Holocene: Point of View/point of view/Frisch — Gary Garvin » Numéro Cinq Archives.

Sep 202014

BergerJohn Berger

Here’s a review I wrote of John Berger’s early novel Corker’s Freedom 20 years ago, rescued from an old disk. The novel was first published in the UK in 1964 and was finally published in the U.S. in 1993 by Pantheon Books. This review appeared in the Washington Post in February 1994. Berger, as you all know, went on to win the Booker Prize in 1972 for his novel G. and became a famous BBC TV art critic. An amazing, knowing writer. Get the book.


corkers-freedom-frontcover-5a44cf4884f45f8f48187085a26d3304The Verso edition.

Corker’s Freedom
A Novel
By John Berger


Dostoevsky once said we all came out from under Gogol’s overcoat by which he meant that the roots of modern storytelling all trace back to Nikolai Gogol’s tale of a humble clerk whose great adventure was buying a brand new overcoat which someone immediately steals.

John Berger’s novel Corker’s Freedom is contemporary masterwork in precisely this Gogolian mode — the old-style noble hero is dead, and in his place we have the drama of a little man who throws all his passion and yearning into some minor, shopworn achievement and inevitably fails.

First published in England in 1964, Corker’s Freedom took almost thirty years to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a slow passage by anyone’s reckoning. I won’t say it was worth the wait because a delay like that is unconscionable, though not inexplicable.

Berger went on to win the Booker Prize in 1972 for his novel G., but he also has an immense reputation as a (Marxist) art critic and avant garde film maker, a reputation sure not to make the hearts of commercial publishers flutter with anticipation.

Corker’s Freedom is about the 64-year-old owner of a grubby little London employment agency who one day decides to leave the home he shares with his invalid sister Irene and set up house in the empty flat above his office. William Corker is humble clay. He and Irene are emotionally pinched — what everyone today would instantly recognize as co-dependent. The single relationship that Corker can recall in anything resembling warm tones is his brief childhood acquaintance with a Viennese nanny.

The move from Irene’s house to the agency flat is the great adventure of Corker’s life, his last, desperate bid for freedom before the long night falls. In the midst of rearranging his mother’s old furniture to make a bedroom, he pictures himself as Lancelot holding the Grail. He thinks he has struck a blow for “The right of a man to be himself, the right of a man to find a way out of his suffering, the right of a man to live where and as he wishes — eager, curious, hopeful, experimental — the right of a man to say: I wish to begin again.”

These are brave, rousing words uttered in the cause of personal transformation in a godless modern world. But they come to nothing. In a horrifyingly comic climactic scene, a drunken Corker discourses on the meaning of life, liberty and art in the midst of an ill-attended church hall slide presentation on his recent holiday in Vienna. His sister sits in the audience tapping her canes irritably. His agency assistant Alec fondles his girlfriend. And a pretty young woman with whom Corker thinks he has fallen in love watches cagily while her burgler lover breaks into the employment agency and makes off with the company safe. Ruined, Corker ends up making crank speeches from a Hyde Park soap box and conning tourists for his lunch.

Berger pushes against the constraints of the novel form, using passages of screen-play dialogue and parenthetical stage directions as fictional shorthand to stand for everyday narrative machinery (set-up and background) that might take pages and pages in a normal novel. This is so that he can pay attention to what he wants to pay attention to, which is the gap between the inner thoughts and public statements of his characters, the tragic and ironic distance between what they know or feel and what they can say.

The drama of the book, in Corker’s case, is the gradual narrowing of this gap — at the end of the church hall scene he is saying what he thinks and knows, which, as Berger sees it, is a kind of folly bordering on madness and leads directly to Corker’s downfall. (Hence the irony of the final pages with Corker endlessly exercising every Englishman’s right to free speech to a sparse gathering of unemployed hecklers and baffled tourists.)

Corker is already done for when he announces to his slide-show audience: “To the best of our ability we must choose happiness. That is my choice. I may be interrupted, prevented or defeated by circumstances but at least I know what I want and what I am doing. I am making myself happy.” The final sentence is, of course, untrue, which makes the speech achingly tragic and absurdly funny at the same time.

Berger writes with amazing aplomb, packing his pages with pyrotechnic ethical wisdom, trenchant social criticism (couched dramatically in the life stories of a succession of deftly sketched secondary characters), and sly comedy (Corker getting progressively drunker on Austrian kummel while reflecting on the glories of Vienna and his long-lost nanny).

Corker’s Freedom is an exhilarating achievement, wise, unsettling, and alive with a sense of humanity that is flawed, doomed, yet oddly indomitable.

—Douglas Glover (Originally appeared in the Washington Post, February 27, 1994)


Sep 202014

My old roomie (and frequent NC contributor) Mark Anthony Jarman and I are reading together at the Goose Lane Editions 60th Anniversary party in Toronto, September 30. Many others are reading, too (including David Seymour, reviewed in these pages earlier this year). So you won’t be bored with, you know, just me.

Details: September 30, 7:00 pm at The Supermarket, 268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, ON.

This is also the launch for six@sixty: Goose Lane Anniversary Collection, a very cool boxed set of six stories by six Goose Lane authors, each story as a separate small book. My contribution is the story “Woman Gored by Bison Lives” from my collection A Guide to Animal Behaviour. It’s a story about love, sex, death, and great steaming herds of charging buffalo. Not to be missed. It begins:

Days, while my husband is at work, Susan and I make love on the couch in her parents’ basement. It is a desperate thing to do, and we are both a little stunned by it. But something has pushed us to the edge of caring.

Gabriela, the baby, is upstairs sleeping, while Susan’s mother does housework or watches soap operas. We keep our clothes on, manacled at the ankles by a tangle of underwear, jeans and belts.  And when Susan comes, I press my palm across her lips to keep her from shouting out her joy.

I don’t know if we are in love. But we are both in need of solace, and our sex is a composition of melancholy and violence, as though we are seeking to escape and punish ourselves in the same act.

This story also contains the immortal lines: “There are certain things you have to know. Suicide is not an option. Life is always better under the influence of mild intoxicants. Masturbation is healthy, the sooner started the better. It’s a sin not to take love where you find it. That is the only sin.”

PLUS!!!!!!!! The paperback edition of Savage Love is coming out. I got copies in the mail this week.




Sep 192014


Here’s a sly, witty, fiercely intelligent, sexy, hilarious, knowing, playful and wise short story, “The Substitute,” from Lynne Tillman’s collection Someday This Will Be Funny (2011). Lynne is an old acquaintance, “friend” would be a bit presumptuous; though we have known each other and corresponded sympathetically now and then since 1992 when I reviewed her sly, witty, fiercely intelligent, hilarious, knowing, playful and wise novel Cast in Doubt for the Washington Post Book World. Of that book, I wrote in part: “…Lynne Tillman writes with such élan, such spirited delight and comic intelligence that it is difficult to take anything but pleasure….” Believe me, this woman has some moves.

Read The Substitute: Fiction — Lynne Tillman » Numéro Cinq.


Sep 192014

Wendy1Wendy Voorsanger in her novel skin at Burning Man. Click the photo for more.

One of the side benefits of Numéro Cinq is the outrageously extensive network of friends, contributors, passionate readers and interested parties committed to the cause. My son Jonah, himself an NC contributor, is on a work term (from University of  Waterloo) in San Francisco. He moved there late August, but before that, I put out the word to the NC Tribe and got some amazingly helpful responses. Best of all was Wendy Voorsanger (check out her contributions in the Art contents page, or click the photo above, or read her What It’s Like Living Here essay) who offered Jonah a place to stay till he got on his feet, a warm and generous (thoughtful, caring — I could go on) invitation from someone with a family of her own to look after. Jonah moved into an apartment at the beginning of September, but Wendy’s parting gift was a quick & dirty list of the best things to see and do during his four months in San Francisco. The list made me want to move to SF. Hell, the whole thing made me want Wendy to adopt me. I thought it was too good to leave in an email. So here it is. A friend’s advice to my son on what to experience in a new city. I am eternally grateful.


Jonah and sf skylineJonah on Telegraph Hill. Click the photo for his NC Archive Page.

1. Off The Grid food truck dinner market (http://offthegridsf.com). I suggest the Haight on Thursday night or Fort Mason on Friday night. If you do Fort Mason on Friday, you can pair it with SFBATS improv comedy theater (http://www.improv.org). Super funny, and cheap entertainment.

2. Have pasta and chianti in North Beach.

3. Visit Coit Tower to see gorgeous WPA frescos painted inside (some by Ralph Stackpole, who did the nudes in our dining room of Conrad’s grandmother, when she/they were young). Don’t forget to go to the top!

4. Have cheap Chinese food in China Town, I suggest Hunan Home’s Restaurant.

5. City Lights Books, Green Apple Books, Dog Eared Books.

6. Visit the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and bike through the park (it’s closed to traffic on Sundays) to the ocean beach and have lunch at the Beach Chalet. Upstairs is sit down, out back is more casual. Don’t forget to check out the frescos inside here too.

7. Walk (or bike) from Crissy Field for Ft. Point Cafe under the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day.

8. Bike over the GG Bridge.

9. Take a ferry to Tiburon and have brunch at Sam’s Cafe outside on the pier.

10. Get a burrito at La Taqueria in the Mission.

11. Walk behind the MLK waterfall in Yerba Buena Park. Read the wall.

12. See a movie at the Kabuki Theater.

13. Order a California Roll at Sushi Boat Restaurant.

14. Visit the SF Art Institute (a private art school founded by Ansel Adams) and ask to visit the Diego River Mural in the main gallery.

15. Attend a Litquake event, SF’s literary festival in October.

16. Visit Stanford in Palo Alto.

17. Visit UC Berkley across the Bay.

18. Visit Muir Woods in Marin and see the giant Sequoia Redwoods.

19. SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) in Capitola.

20. Climb Mt. Tamalpais all the day to the fire look out on a clear day for a 360 view of the Bay Area.

(21. Visit Steve Jarret at Facebook!)