Jun 232017
 

You saw it here on Numéro Cinq first, but now Rikki Ducornet and Margie McDonald are going live with a fantabulous show in Port Townsend all next month. It was just a year ago that we published a brilliant collaboration (click to see the images) between writer/painter/NC contributor Rikki Ducornet and sculptor Margie McDonald. Rikki describes that collaboration as an “ongoing conversation” between Margie’s whimsical refuse sculptures and her own painted scrolls, the former informing the latter.

If you find yourself in Port Townsend, WA in July, it’s worth visiting the Northwind Arts Center to see the resultinginstallation, delightfully named “CRAZY HAPPY.” If you can’t make it, be sure to check out the beautiful, mesmerizing video of their process.

CRAZY HAPPY

Painted Scrolls by Rikki Ducornet & Sculpture by Margie McDonald

June 29 – July 30, 2017

Art Walk & Reception July 1

Art Talk July 2 | 1pm

Northwind Arts Center | Port Townsend, WA

 

Rikki Ducornet and Margie McDonald

Jun 212017
 

Dizziness is a psychophysiological state tied to confusion and the mental processes of understanding, with a possible ontological component, if it makes sense to talk about ontology. There are many variations. You have just come to grasp a basic principle, a unity that breaks down barriers between the disparate things before you, and can see it, in the totality of its relevance, racing endlessly to comprehend them. Or you see the unity, but it careens off the walls of all the things it does not comprehend and scatters everywhere beyond them, while the things it does pervade dissolve into endless nothing. Or you only see the principle but sense no walls at all, only the outlines of what you think is there, the boundless extension of their empty possibilities. Or see the mesh of possibilities in things, but not the principle that might align them, only the chance of a principle, ever endless in its evasion. Or see neither the principle nor possible connections, only endless endlessness.

In each there is the same feeling, similar to that of physical dizziness, like an irritation in the ears, a tickling of equilibrium, and it is difficult to tell whether the sensation is one of rising or falling. In each also come feelings of doubt and confidence, of anxiety and elation, but it is not clear that the dread doesn’t belong to the confidence, the transport to the doubt. With these feelings, another emotion impossible to name, diffuse yet more intense, and with its movement, a stillness, a white mist spreading in a blinding sun—

From my essay “Autumn Rhythm” Conjunctions Online, 2015

See also “Perspective”

Gary Garvin

Jun 152017
 

Bernard Hoepffner

Just been informed that Bernard Hoepffner’s body was identified today, the same day we published his epistolary romance excerpt. I am floored. You read the letters he wrote to Sarah M., and you cannot miss the liveliness, the playfulness, of his mind. And now he’s dead. The contact who put me in touch with had let me know something was up, so I hastened publication of the piece. But the confirmation only just came through. This is very sad.

dg

POLICE have confirmed that the unidentified body washed up on to Meirionnydd’s seashore is that of and internationally acclaimed French translator.

On Friday morning, 9 June, North Wales Police were called to Tywyn after a body was reported on the town’s beach.

The body is now confirmed to be Bernard Hoepffner, from Dieulefit, in Southern France.

Read the rest at the UK Cambrian News.

Jun 152017
 

Daniel Green is a first-rate literary critic and occasional fiction writer with an impressive list of publications. He first popped up on the NC website in February, when we published an excerpt from his recent book Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. This month, he’s written us a shrewd review of Robert Coover’s Huck Out West, and we’re pleased to announce that he’ll be a permanent fixture on the NC masthead as a contributor.

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Daniel Green is a writer and literary critic whose essays, reviews, and stories have appeared in a variety of publications. He is the author of Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism (2016).

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Jun 062017
 

The legendary Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is launching an Emerging Writers Intensive program this coming October, and I’ve hired on to teach the CNF side of things. It’s a one-week gig, October 2 – 9, and if you want to sign up, you have until July 5 to do so.

On the personal side, I have been to this place before. Once especially. I was maybe 10 or 11, on a family trip, car camping. We had just been to Jasper, where my rambunctious brothers and I chased bear cubs in the woods (now I perceive how eminently stupid this was). We drove into the Banff Centre and walked around and I was bored until my mother led us into a ballet rehearsal studio. I had never seen anything like it in my life (I was raised on a farm). An instructor was teaching young male dancers how to lift young female dancers (you know, just older than me, fairy-tale beings, I could almost see their gossamer wings). The memory still electrifies my imagination (where, yes, I remain twelve forever).

Now that I think of it, I feel a memoir coming on — “My Life in Ballet.”

dg

Here’s a link to the Emerging Writers Intensive page. And here’s a link to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

And here is the faculty:

Jun 012017
 

In the slider at the Top of the Page this month, we pay homage to the work of Contributor Frank Richardson, the Frank Richardson of the modest two-line bio and the comical author photo, the Frank Richardson who since he first appeared on these pages in November 2014 has quietly and modestly made himself nearly indispensable. He is the quintessential Numéro Cinq reviewer, a terrific writer with his own style, an astute reader, and a knowing analyst, able to tease out and explicate the essential innovations of form and technique in any author he turns to. Take some time this month and linger over the slider and read all of Frank’s pieces. There isn’t one that can’t teach you a thing or two. And then go back and read his first contribution to the magazine, that lovely essay “The Art of the Long Sentence” (November, 2014).

May 292017
 

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I watched Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander the other night and was touched again by the gentle, passionate attachment the family has for its theatre, which is both a central symbol (everyone is an actor) and a thematic sourcebook (Shakespeare and Strindberg). In that wonderful speech backstage after the Christmas pageant, the soon-to-be-dead brother talks about the little room of the theatre where the actors and actresses produce their art. It’s mostly for their own pleasure in a sense, but it will sometimes bring joy to their audience, and sometimes it will even reach beyond, into the larger world.

I think of the magazine that way. It’s first a community of authors, artists, translators and editors, and we do this for ourselves, for our own pleasure. And then there is the extended community of readers and watchers. And beyond that the larger world that sometimes takes notice, is mildly diverted or surprised, perhaps even changed a little. You don’t find beauty and intelligence framed this way in everyday life. It’s a special place, a little room.

We have a sweet, exceptional issue coming out in June, including Victoria Best’s gorgeous double interview (with painter Miranda Boulton and poet Kaddy Benyon) on the nature and progress of creativity, Trinie Dalton’s memoir “Ripper,” a wonderfully realized “Childhood” essay by Mark Foss, an amazingly accomplished short story by a fresh, new writer Tom Howard, and a lovely appreciation by Domenic Stansberry of the Brooklyn novelist Jay Neugeboren. But there is more! — poems by Darren Bifford, Clint McCown, and a young new writer from Arizona, Erin Lillo, and Jane Clarke (Irish, the latest in our Irish lit series). And besides the Miranda Boulton paintings that accompany the Victoria Best interviews, we have a selection of beautiful paintings by the incomparable Katie DeGroot, who has appeared on these pages before. The ambidextrous poet Cynthia Huntington turns her hand to nonfiction, passionate and wild. Russell Working does a little turn as a literary analyst, comparing stories by James Joyce and Alice Munro. And we have a short fiction piece by the Fernando Aramburu translated from Spanish by Brendan Riley (who is by way of being a regular at NC).

Jason DeYoung, our book review editor, has pulled together a cadre of whip-smart reviewers who pick the most incandescent books to write about. This month Daniel Green, new to the magazine, reviews Robert Coover’s Huck Out West; Contributing Editor Jason Lucarelli reviews The Sarah Book by Scott McLanahan; Rohan Maitzen (also a newcomer) reviews Sarah Moss’s Lost Children; Mike Carson reviews Josh Emmon’s A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales (and, Lo!, we have a story from the book to go with the review); Rich Farrell, a former senior editor, returns to review Steven Heighton’s The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep ; and Dorian Stuber reviews Hans Keilson’s 1944 Diary.

And, as usual, there is MORE!

May 132017
 

A week or so ago, Curtis White dropped me an email with subject heading “Lamentations of an aging hippie,” which contained a link to the first in a four-part series of cultural/political analyses of the current malaise (not so current since White can find fitting quotes from as far back as Nathanael West) he had written for the MobyLives site at Melville House. The word “lamentations” is Biblical and prophetic. The phrase “aging hippie” is ironic since hippies have long come in for mild derision, if not worse. But an aging hippie is a person who participated in the great era of cultural consciousness-raising, the halcyon moment of America’s affluence, hope and resistance before we began to go down before the forces if neo-liberalism.

Here’s a teaser from the first essay “Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part I)”:

In short, American democracy is at present an exercise in self-destruction. We can’t dismiss that fact with the idea that the election of Donald Trump or of Paul Ryan, for that matter, was somehow a mistake that we won’t repeat. If it is a mistake, it is one that the people living on two-thirds of the landmass of the United States are committed to. This self-defeating commitment is the dark, dark side of Jerry Brown’s indifference to what the rest of the country does. As far as the people of Youngstown, Pennsylvania, are concerned, California has already seceded. For the dispossessed, voting for candidates like Donald Trump offers the illusion of “blowing up” the establishment (or “deconstructing the administrative state,” as Steve Bannon likes to say, trying very hard to sound as addled as some assistant professors of English), but in truth their vote is more like protest through self-immolation.

And it is likely to get worse. As the most ambitious, well-educated, and affluent people flee any Red State vibe and concentrate themselves in metro-Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, the rest of the country will get poorer, more ignorant, and ever more resentful. While the technological wonders of the modern world are displayed all around them, it feels to them as if they are suffering internal exile in some Third World country of the soul. This is not a new experience for the dispossessed of the earth. Nathanael West described their condition lucidly in Day of the Locust (1939):

Scattered among these [wealthy] masqueraders were people of a different type. Their clothing was somber and badly cut, bought from mail-order houses. While the others moved rapidly, darting into stores and cocktail bars, they loitered on the corners or stood with their backs to the shop windows and stared at everyone who passed. When their stare was returned, their eyes filled with hatred.

Source: Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part I) » MobyLives

And here’s a teaser from the second “Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part II)”:

The danger in a putative “resistance” led in these ways is that—through entirely conventional forms of political activism administered by yet more millionaires, like Trump’s ex-pal Jeffrey Zucker at CNN—we will end up, whether we mean to or not, restoring a neoliberal political establishment whose interest in economic justice is tepid at best. There is something disturbing about the ease with which liberals line up behind MSNBC and Starbucks while voicing contempt for Fox and Cracker Barrel. It is disturbing because there is an unacknowledged element of class bigotry at work. We’re led to think, “Our enemy is white trash America, the poor and the stupid, and they eat at Cracker Barrel and they watch Sean Hannity!”

As James Baldwin could have said of the Democratic Party of the last thirty years, “They have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” They still do not want to know it, even after Hillary Clinton’s unprecedented rejection by the working class of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Source: Socialist Survivalism: A Democracy Beyond Democracy (Part II) » MobyLives

Keep an eye on the site for the remaining essays in the series.

Also check out Patrick J. Keane’s prescient pre-election essay “Slouching Toward Anarchy,” which appeared here on Numéro Cinq in April a year ago.

dg

May 032017
 

Donald Breckenridge

Herewith, my introduction to Donald Breckenridge’s extraordinary new novel And Then just out with Black Sparrow, the venerable experimental/indie press now an imprint of David R. Godine in Boston. The introduction is included in the book and is reprinted here by agreement with Breckenridge and Black Sparrow/Godine. This isn’t a review; it’s an elucidation of the genius of form.

—dg

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“We walk about, amid the destinies of our world-existence, encompassed by dim but ever present Memories of a Destiny more vast — very distant in the bygone time, and infinitely awful.”  Poe, Eureka

Donald Breckenridge is a pointillist, constructing scene after scene with precise details of dialogue and gesture, each tiny in itself, possibly mundane, but accumulating astonishing power and bleak complexity. His language is matter of fact, the unsentimental plain style used subtly and flexibly. The only apparent artfulness is in the unconventional punctuation and, sometimes, the way the dialogue breaks up the narrative sentences. His settings are Carverish, bleak and constrained; his characters are the stubborn, alienated authors of their own melancholy fates; they persist in a panoply of failed habits and attitudes, gestures of a wounded self they refuse to give up because it is their own, a refusal that is by turns defiant, sordid, heroic, grotesque, and tragic.

But this novel’s triumph is in its rich architecture, its surprising splicing of genre and quotation, its skillfully fractured chronology, and the deft juxtaposition of alternating story lines. The result of this combinatorial panache is to create an arena of systemic implication, in which the sum is greater than the parts. Nothing here is what you expect; in fact, some of this text is nearly indescribable in terms of genre and form. What do you call a piece of fiction that is a narrative transcription of a real movie that is itself a fiction? Answer: Don’t even try. It’s a logical wormhole. It will turn your brain inside-out like a sock.

I will elucidate: And Then is, like most novels, a story about a character. Let’s say a nondescript loser robs a mom and pop store in some out of the way town and gives the money to his girlfriend so she can escape the mean and derelict provincial life she is destined for. She heads to New York with the cash, finds an apartment share, and has a love affair with a photographer, but the police (somewhere) are after her, and she falls among bad companions under the sign of hard drugs, who love her for her money. When that stake runs out, so does her string, and she disappears, probably dead, floating in the river.

But Breckenridge, the symphonic composer, takes this narrative theme, his melody, and works magic upon it by adding a half-dozen further elements.

1) A second, parallel plot involving a young male student who, a dozen years later, agrees to cat sit for one of his professors away on sabbatical. In the apartment he discovers the photograph of a beautiful woman, his professor’s mysterious former lover and/or roommate, a woman who simply disappeared. The student obsesses on the woman in the photograph; he becomes a sleuth, collecting stray bits of information about her. He finally tracks down the photographer who took the picture. But no one knows what became of her.

These two plots, the young woman plot and the student plot, leapfrog each other in the text, fragmented and uncanny. At a certain point the young woman, apparently waking from a drug stupor (only she is dead), finds her way back to the apartment, ascending the stairs just as the young student is descending. At the climactic moment, he feels her ghost passing through him.

2) An epigraph from Ionesco’s Present Past Past Present, an important influence for Breckenridge who takes epigraphs for all his novels from this text. The passage presents a character unfree, chained down, but conscious that he has the key to freedom, which he hardly ever uses.

3) An overture, or introductory passage, that consists of a prose transcription/narrative summary of Jean Rouch’s film Gare du Nord (1995, one of six short films by leading New Wave directors under the title Paris Vu Par). The film splits into two parts. The first follows a young married couple quarreling over the dissolution of their relationship; they are fed up with each other, disappointed in their mistakes, tired of their lives. In the second half of the film, the wife meets a handsome, brooding fellow who offers transcendence, offers her the chance to run away to a life of adventure. But she’s too bourgeois, timid, and polite to take him up. His response is to climb the bars of a railway bridge and jump to his death.

But what is going on? A novel disguised as a summary of a film? A quotation, as it were? A meta-commentary, or a work of art based on a work of art or in dialogue with a work of art? And the story itself is iconic, presenting the enormous ennui of modern life in the pressure cooker of a young marriage. But then the young man in the suit offers liberation. Is he a con, is he the devil, is he an angel? And the girl can’t contemplate running away from the life that is grinding her down. She hurries back into the trap. She doesn’t trust freedom — well, who would trust a man you had just met, who talks crazily about adventure, who looks too good in that suit? What is she going to do now? The message loop Breckenridge creates is convoluted and mysterious and yet firmly within a novel-writing tradition starting with Cervantes who, after all, wrote a great novel about a man trying to imitate another book.

4 & 5) The last quarter of the novel text is actually Donald Breckenridge’s brutal, sad memoir of his father dying: stark and beautiful and full of our common humanity; pity, love, kindness, stubbornness, squalor and valor. Here again there are two narratives: one works back and forth over the story of a life, two lives, father and son, and the father’s declining days; the other, more mysterious, follows Breckenridge to a diner, the subway, the train station. We get detailed accounts of conversations with the diner owner. We oscillate between donuts and staph infections, but by the genius of construction and understatement, horror and hopelessness accumulate. The word “love” isn’t thrown around, but the son patiently bandaging and dabbing medication on those awful sores tells you more than words. You are fascinated and cannot turn away.

Curiously, embedded in the memoir we find a scene in which Breckenridge tells his father about the suicide of a woman who lived in an apartment above him and how, he is sure, that one day he encountered her ghost in the stairwell. (The reader himself encounters a frisson of combinatorial delight.)

6) But even more curiously, embedded in the memoir we find also a few paragraphs in italics quoted from Théophile Gautier’s romantic horror story “The Tourist” (originally published as “Arria Marcella: A Souvenir of Pompeii” in 1852), a ghost story of sorts, in which a young traveler becomes obsessed with a woman’s figure preserved in the ash of Pompeii only to find himself translated that night to ancient Pompeii where he falls in love with the very woman. The story has the air of Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” or Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” The young traveler, sent back to his own time without the ghostly lover, never falls in love again, never fully engages with life.

And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

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And Then is beautiful, artful, an elaborated system of repetitions, motifs and juxtaposed narratives. Without wishing to be reductive, one can say that the three ghost stories relate to the theme of co-presence of temporal periods signaled in the Ionesco quotation, the way the past haunts existence. And they are balanced with three stories of characters who cannot change their behavior when change is the only way to redeem themselves (the young Parisian woman who cannot leave her job and marriage, the girl who runs away to New York with her stash, and Breckenridge’s father who cannot get himself the treatment that would save his life). And these in turn are refracted in three observer stories: the Brooklyn student who falls in love with photo of a missing woman, the youthful traveler in Gautier’s horror story, and Breckenridge watching his father die.

And Then is a contemporary ghost story, full of horror and unremitting melancholy, heir to the romantics, to Gautier and to Poe (yet also, stubbornly unsentimental in affect, reminiscent of the Nouveau Roman), a vastly literate work, engaged in its own conversation with the bookish past. Everything here is doubled and redoubled, echoed, mirrored, and reflected, and the dead do not die. The dead turn into ghosts or memories or words on the page, all of which are the same perhaps, at least in a book. And the effect in this novel is to create a mysterious intimation of a larger reference, a world beyond the book, a teeming yet insensible world that is yet no consolation.

Douglas Glover

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May 012017
 

This month, in the slider at the Top of the Page, we have a bouquet of translation pieces picked from the magazine’s archive by Ben Woodard, our translation editor. We take an internationalist approach at Numéro Cinq, trying not to identify with a single geographical region but a larger country of the imagination. We also make something of a fetish of honouring translators as well as a work’s original author. So that every translation piece is listed by genre (fiction, poetry, nonfiction) under the author’s name and then a second time in the translation table of contents page under the translator’s name.

At the Top of the Page this month: Tamil love poems translated by A. Anupama, Róbert Gál aphorisms translated from Slovak by David Short, a Quim Monzó short story translated from Catalan by Peter Bush, poems by the Nicaraguan writer Blanca Castellón translated by J. P. Dancing Bear, a short story from the Mexican writer Mónica Lavín translated by Patricia  Dubrava, a short story from yet another Mexican writer Julián Hebert translated by Brendan Riley, and finally a short story by Zsófia Bán translated from Hungarian by Erika Mihálycsa. There are tons more listed in the translation table of contents. Take a few moments to browse when you get a chance.

Apr 282017
 

I know that many of you envy the life of an internationally obscure writer, but I beg to remind you that sometimes there can be hazardous materials involved. Consequently, today I am modeling some DIY hazmat gear for the budget-minded author. Handy for wearing while reading reviews of your own work. This is not, as some of you might have waggishly opined, an erotic fetish costume, nor am I re-enacting a scene from an early Woody Allen movie. But I am on the farm in Ontario, and there is heroic work to be done. (I think I mentioned to some of you that I got the septic tank cleaned out two days ago — this has nothing to do with that!)

 

I also went to the grocery store, always a stirring experience, especially at sunset when the dear old Foodland parking lot is bathed in splendour.

Then I went to the woods to hunt for ramps. They are up, but we have so much ramp pesto from last year that it seems a shame to raid the beds again this year. And I forgot to take pictures of them. Anyone who wants to correct my identifications here can leave a comment.

Shadbush or Serviceberry

Daffodils Jean planted here and there in the woods

Mayapple

Hepatica

Trout-lily or Dog-Toothed Violet or Adder’s Tongue

Modern agriculture: You plant rye as a cover crop in the fall. It pops up in the spring. Then you spray a defoliant to kill the rye, disc up the land, and plant something new (the guys were out with the tractors today discing up this field). I took the picture a couple of days ago.

 

But then there is this.

—dg

Apr 262017
 

As you all know, we ordinarily don’t take submissions. The magazine publishes work by invitation only. From time to time, we do open up submissions for our set essay series — My First Job, What It’s Like Living Here, and Childhood. We’ve had some great work come in. You’ll see it in the coming issues. But we’ve decided to close the submissions window, at least temporarily, because of the extra work it occasions.

We’ve taken down the submissions page, and any new submissions will be sent back unread.

dg

Apr 252017
 

Bonnie Baker in studio 8Artist Bonnie Baker in her studio

Another brilliant issue, an overflowing issue, a monumental issue, the result of immense efforts on my part to shrink the magazine and make things manageable (read with irony). But, yes, brilliant, explosive. We have art work by Bonnie Baker, Denise Blake poems from Ireland, Dylan Brennan interviews Douglas J. Weatherford, translator of Juan Rulfo’s The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings just out with Deep Vellum Publishing, fiction by John Bullock and Madison Smartt Bell, plus a short story by Franci Novak, translated from Slovenian by Olivia Hellewell, also a selection of ghazals by our own A. Anupama, plus poems by Robert Currie and Michael Catherwood, a My First Job essay by Cynthia Holz, Patrick J. Keane on Yeats and Gnosticism, Michael Carson on plot (in short stories), Linda Chown reviews Madison Smartt Bell’s new novel Behind the Moon, Jeff Bursey reviews Steven Moore’s My Back Pages (and we have an excerpt), Dorian Stuber reviews Robert Walser, Frank Richardson reviews Compass by Matthias Énard, Joseph Schreiber reviews João Gilberto Noll’s Atlantic Hotel, Julie Larios reviews Fleda Brown’s new and selected poems, and more! Indeterminate, untold amounts of more. Cataclysmic floods of MORE.

Apr 252017
 

In February’s issue, Sophie Lavoie introduced our readers to Scott Cudmore’s music video for Wintersleep’s song, “Amerika,” and we’ve just learned that the short film is up for a prestigious Prism Prize. From their website:

The Prism Prize is a national, juried award established to recognize the artistry of the modern music video in Canada.

A jury of more than 120 Canadian music and film industry professionals – including members of the print/web media, broadcasting, film, radio, and video art communities – has been selected to nominate the 10 best videos of the year to comprise our shortlist.

These jurors are then charged with the task of crowning one video as the winner of the annual Prism Prize, which carries with it a substantial cash reward.The Prism Prize is awarded based on artistic merit. Jurors are asked to consider the following criteria when selecting the best video of the year: Originality, Creativity, Style, Innovation and Effective Execution.

Sophie wrote the following about the clip:

Grainy video and tinny sound are not what one expects from a professional music video, but the opening to Wintersleep’s video for “Amerika,” the anthem from their most recent album, melds form and content to make for an explosive one-minute prelude. A pale, young, red-headed woman informs us flatly of the apocalyptic decline of the human race, in a clear rejection of humans by nature, animals and trees. Then, an anonymous child’s voice details how members of a family are interconnected even when far apart. These are clearly trying times.

Currently, “Amerika” has made it to the final 10 videos under consideration. Prize night is May 14. Congratulations to both director Cudmore and Wintersleep.

Apr 172017
 

M. is reading a biography of Allen Ginsberg (Dharma Lion by Michael Schumacher), which got us talking about Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. We started watching videos to bring the people to life and see the connections, the tracks between. These threads of personal connection and influence, genre and tradition, are compelling. One startling thread, as I watched this stuff, was the still rich theme of America as a vast open space, the frontier, and the colonization of that space by driving over it (ah, America). Nary a mention of the natives.

This is Kerouac reading from On the Road on the Steve Allen Show. The sound track and clips from this film show up in almost all the other Kerouac videos.

And here is the famous 1968 interview with William F. Buckley. Kerouac is drunk. He died a year later.

And here’s Ginsberg’s gloss on that appearance. Incidentally, this is Ginsberg at his personable best. Amiable and loyal.

And here is some casual footage shot in 1959 in New York with Kerouac, Ginsberg and Lucien Carr and his family. There’s a fascinating story dating back to 1944 and before. William Burroughs’ friend David Kammerer, as I understand it, had a crush on Carr when Carr was twelve and in a Boy Scout troop Kammerer led. Kammerer essentially became a stalker. And in 1944 Carr stabbed him to death in Riverside Park and dumped the body in the river. Then he went to see Burroughs and tell him, and Burroughs said to go to the police, which he did. Carr did some time. Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as accessories after the fact.

All handsome young people, even Ginsberg who looks raffish and brooding.

Time frame: Kerouac wrote an early draft of On the Road in the late 1940s. It was published in 1957.[1]

And here’s a short documentary about Neal Cassady and Kerouac, beginning with an old Ginsberg interviewing Cassady in a bookstore.

And here’s a documentary about Cassady and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Cassady enlisted as the driver of the bus (obviously a bit hair-raising). This was 1964, a second chance at becoming a myth for Cassady, who wanted to be a writer but couldn’t. Fascinating how he became a figure of the imagination for two cultural movements, the Beats and the 60s Hippie movement. This video contains clips of a slightly demonic Hunter Thompson commenting on Cassady’s crystal meth addiction.

As a side note, Gordon Lish was teaching at a school in Burlingame, California, in the early 60s and publishing the experimental magazine Genesis West. Cassady and Kesey, among others, used to come around the the Lish house.

I like this connection because, of course, Lish was my editor for The Life and Times of Captain N. (1993) and my story “Swain Corliss, Hero of Malcolm’s Mills (Now Oakland, Ontario), November 6, 1814”, which appeared in The Quarterly, No. 13, in 1990. I started sending work to Lish as far back as the early 1980s when I was a student at the Iowa Writers Workshop. And, of course, through Lish, we arrive at the 80s, 90s and 2000s, a whole new generation of North American experimental prose. [2]

Here is Lish on those early relationships from an interview in the Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

How did you meet Ken Kesey?

LISH

Through his old wrestling coach, or English teacher, at Oregon, Philip Temko. We wrestled, Ken and I, out in front of a shack he had on Perry Lane, hard by Stanford, where he was a Stegner Fellow. Frances and I had a little bungalow on Concord Way in Burlingame and fell in with Ken through Temko and my search for Allan Temko, a writer I wanted to attract to the Chrysalis Review, a lit mag I was mounting at the time. So first I meet Kesey in San Jose at a romp Philip Temko was throwing. Met Neal there that night, too. Later on Kesey and I wrestled. He slaughtered me. This seemed to promote a friendship. Too, he was working on Cuckoo’s Nest, so there was the bughouse connection. Indeed, I was incarcerated twice—for two weeks in Florida and, later, for eight months up in White Plains. I could spend forever telling you tales about Kesey and Cassady. At the time I fell all over myself in devotion to Kesey’s writing. Yeah, I loved Kesey and his work. I loved the shit out of him, an utterly alive fellow, as was Cassady. But Cassady was gentle and dear and sensitive and kind. Kesey was anything but. He could be a pretty trying fellow and we became increasingly less palsy. There were all the kids he collected around his place in La Honda, that claque, and by the time Tom Wolfe turned up on the scene, I was plenty absent from it. Went up to Victoria, Canada, then to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, then on to New York. I wouldn’t go along on either of the bus trips. Didn’t want to surrender myself to that prankstering bit, had Frances, the children, and a job I was going, presently, not to have. Ken kept saying, Come on, come on, come on, if you want to be my friend, come on, but I wouldn’t go. Yes, we had remarkable times. He died too young. I miss him all the time. Can’t say I didn’t love Ken, but with Neal the affection was far less troubled. No, no trouble at all.

After this, we decided to explore tangentially. We found a couple of documentaries about Black Mountain College (1933-1957), a John Dewey inspired college near Asheville heavily infiltrated by ex-Bauhaus artists and teachers escaping Hitler’s Germany. The connection for me was Charles Olson, whose what we would now call hybrid essays (I am beginning to shudder at the phrase) on history and projective verse also struck me at a vulnerable time, i.e. influenced me (I just checked my copy of the Selected Essays, bought in 1981 in Iowa City).

In this one there are some clips of Ed Sanders, who also appears in the Kerouac-William F. Buckley interview above, with an interesting bit of background in Ginsberg’s commentary following. Sanders is another of those trans-generational characters.

Then we thought to check out Goddard College (it was a night of tangents, all of which made sense at the time), the venerable experimental arts college in Vermont. It turns out that parallel to Black Mountain, the modern incarnation of Goddard was founded by another Thomas Dewey acolyte with a similar vision of the interpenetration of the humanities and arts as an exercise in soul creation and emancipation. Of course, the personal connection here is that Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I have taught on and off for a decade and a half, is an offshoot of Goddard, its egalitarian, counter-culture ethos very much an echo of Dewey and the days of vital experiment. At least these are the things that have always drawn me to the place.

I am writing this at the NC Bunker outside of Plainfield. Goddard College is just three miles down the hill on the other side of the village. Vermont College of Fine Arts is in Montpelier, about ten miles away.

But then we veered back to Charles Olson and started watching this documentary. It’s in six parts. You can just keep watching. Lovely to watch him lumbering about and to hear the legends of his marathon teaching sessions at Black Mountain. Also lovely to see this clips of Robin Blaser talking about him. As it happens, I interviewed Blaser in the early 90s when I had my radio show (another connection/influence — by the time I interviewed him he had long since taken up residence in British Columbia where he helped anchor the powerful Canadian wing of Black Mountain poetry).[3]

This brings me back to the beginning, my note about the theme of America as place, as space, as mythic and local at once. You can hear it in Kerouac and you can hear it in Olson, especially the snippets from his book Call me Ishmael. I’m Canadian and I live here and now, with all its concomitant ironies and subversions, and these naive affirmations of love and ownership for the land, the sense of identity and language embedded in the land, America, make me edgy. They ring hollow, whereas as once they helped propel the careers of these authors, as rebellious and as experimental as they seemed. Perhaps it is this naive affirmation that so many Americans miss nowadays.

dg

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. There is a comical connection between Numéro Cinq and Burroughs who once threatened to shoot John Proctor (a boy at the time). John was one of the first group of writers on the masthead and he wrote a knowing little essay about the incident.
  2. We have a serious commitment to all things Lishian at Numéro Cinq: two strong essays on Lish and his school by Jason Lucarelli here and here, photos of Lish by Bill Hayward, and essays, reviews and interviews on/with Lish protégés — Victoria Redel here, here and here; Diane Williams, Greg Mulcahy here and here, and Gary Lutz. I’ll stop — there are more.
  3. Not coincidentally, our Contributing Editor Natalie Helberg won the Robin Blaser Award for Poetry a couple of years ago. There is, in fact, a strong, shared aesthetic at the back of the magazine.
Apr 072017
 

 

Michael Carson, who has a review in this issue, is joining the Numéro Cinq masthead as a contributor. He’ll be doing reviews and essays, including an essay on story structure coming out in the May issue and another book review on the hob for later. Michael is a short story writer and a veteran of the Iraq war, but best of all, he is intelligent, generous, curious, and thinks obsessively about books and writing. Fits right in.

§

Michael Carson lives on the Gulf Coast. His non-fiction has appeared at The Daily Beast and Salon, and his fiction in the short story anthology, The Road Ahead: Stories of the Forever War. He helps edit the Wrath-Bearing Tree and is currently working towards an MFA in Fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Apr 042017
 

Here’s a brilliant, mesmerizing short video featuring the collaboration between the painter/writer Rikki Ducornet and sculptor Margie McDonald. You’ll remember that we did a piece on their collaboration in our July issue last year (click on the title to see the post):

CRAZY HAPPY: Painted Scrolls by Rikki Ducornet & Sculpture by Margie McDonald

Watch the video and be seduced into their process — Margie’s hands weaving her materials, Rikki’s paint brush dancing over the paper. Then take a look at the paintings and sculptures that resulted.

Rikki Ducornet  & Margie McDonald

 

Apr 032017
 

My short story “Money” (first published in The Brooklyn Rail) just came out in the new 2016 edition (yes, seems a bit late) of Best Canadian Stories. Nice company, including Leon Rooke, Cynthia Flood and Elise Levine (we have a review of her new novel coming in the current issue).

Here’s a taste of the story. You can read it online at TBR, or get a copy of the book.

dg

Drebel started when he was fourteen organizing a grocery shopping service for the elderly in his neighborhood. He charged a flat rate per bag, accepted gratuities, and handled the cash exchange between the grocery store and the old people. Once he gained a customer’s trust, he would skim a percentage off the change, especially when the old man or woman couldn’t see that well. He would smile winningly while counting out the money; the old folks loved having a young person to socialize with. Seeing themselves reflected in his eyes, they thought they were smart, plucky oldtimers. Later, he was able to arrange a small quid pro quo from the supermarket manager’s petty cash to steer his customers away from competitors. He never bought bulk or generic. When an elderly party insisted on cheaper brands, Drebel would shrug and say the store was out. He watched for customers whose memory was failing and preyed on them, lifting a hundred dollar bill from the open purse or pocketing an expensive watch from the sideboard. Once he swiped a handful of silver cutlery from a drawer, sweeping it into his courier bag and clanking out the door. But he had trouble fencing the forks and spoons, and he was really only interested in the cash. He couldn’t help becoming fond of the old woman who said she would put him in her will, though he knew she wouldn’t. He didn’t take any offer of warmth or affection personally. He knew the old people were wrapped tight in their narrow lives, narrower and narrower as they grew older. They could be just as devious and mean as the next person. Drebel noticed how the codgers took a perverse pride in trying to shortchange him, arguing over the receipts, shaving the tip. “Here’s another quarter, son. Oh, drat. I thought I had another quarter. Next time?” He didn’t care. All he wanted was his cut, the skim.

Read the rest at The Brooklyn Rail.

Apr 012017
 

Diane Schoemperlen collage from her story “I am a Motel.”

Senior Editor Jason DeYoung picked the fiction featured at the Top of the Page this month. Short stories by Gabriel Josipovici, Diane Schoemperlen, Alan Cunningham, Trinie Dalton, Michael Bryson, Richard Farrell, and Sheridan Hay. Jason wrote: “Some traditional, some spirited, some irreverent, some weird, some with a little something extra – all with velocity.  But also looked for older stuff too, things that haven’t popped up in a while. But I could have made this twice as long – lots there on the site.” I like that phrase, ALL WITH VELOCITY.

Mar 312017
 

Architecture, we forget at our peril, is inherently violent. It invariably subtracts from the range of available possibilities, especially the perennially attractive option of building nothing at all. In this sense, construction sites are crime scenes. Memories, landscapes, slices of sky, beloved vistas and old neighborhoods are violated even when buildings of distinction take their place. Perhaps the most architecture can do is convert aggression into desire, its primitive twin.

Herbert Muschamp, NY Times

… the past is not merely a quarry of forms to which we are welcome; it is the vast repository of collective memory that ought to illuminate our borrowings. And architecture is not the carefree manipulation of form; it cannot be practiced without consequences.

Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture

Trumpitecture does not know timing. It does not know its own era but clings to easy symbols of might. Perhaps they had a time, but that time has long passed. In contrast to the best known early victor in the tallest building race, the Empire State Building, Trumpitecture leaves little as a treasure for posterity, a monument to its own era, or an icon for a city. Trumpitecture leaves a legacy for one thing: Trump.

Doug Staker, Dezeen

“Just for the record, I had nothing to do with this sign.”

The architect of another Trump tower, on its front sign, from Staker again.

Gary Garvin

Mar 272017
 

melfulluse

We…advocate that melancholia be positioned as a distinct, identifiable and specifically treatable affective syndrome in the DSM-5 classification.

Melancholic patients respond better to broad-action tricyclic anti­depressants than to narrow-action antidepressants (e.g., serotonin uptake inhibitors). They respond well to ECT. In comparison to those with nonmelancholic mood disorders, melancholic patients rarely respond to placebos, psychotherapies, or social interventions.

from “Issues for DSM-5: Whither Melancholia?”
The American Journal of Psychiatry

Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I draws from the theory of humors that goes back to classical times, where states of body and mind were determined by four essential fluids. It once was the basis of medical practice and found widespread cultural representation. Balance of the four brought health, but that was an ideal that we could not always maintain, or that not all of us could not find, or, in Christian times, a perfection none of us could reach at all since and because of the Fall of Man. A predominance of one in excess led to pathology, but in lesser amounts set phases we all went through or determined different personality types among us. I regret loss of this system, as it gave us variety and cut us some slack. Moody was something we could be. Today our vast catalog of mental aberration depends solely upon the empty term “normal” that is defined only by what it is not, that denotes a state that is a balance of nothing. Yet we stray from it at our peril.

Black bile was the fluid of melancholy, which brought lethargy and stinginess. The melancholic was the most dreaded of the four personality types, as surfeit could lead to insanity and even death. Its representations, a grim miser clenching his purse, an indolent woman asleep at her spinning wheel, were sedative expressions that suppressed that fear. And intrigue—madness and death have always had that pull on us. Dürer’s figure, however, is not a common person but a winged angel, intensely alert and deep in thought, surrounded by the elements and tools of creation. Dürer has given us a picture of the artist, and in her face we see the power of her potential. But the tools lie scattered at her feet, untouched. She is grounded, locked in thought, does not fly, does not create, while in the background a comet flares and a bat cries terror. The dread has been released in a scene of darkness and disorder. I’ve had a print on a wall for decades, and every now and then I look at her for inspiration. She does not look back. This is as it should be.

Perhaps her block and the disarray show the broil and fruitless mulling that precede creation. But according to Erwin Panofsky, in The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, from which I take my material, that work will never come:

Hers is the inertia of a being which renounces what it could reach because it cannot reach for what it longs.

The artist is limited to the visible, what can be shown, what can be represented, and is removed from higher thought that might transcend, from the light of divine understanding, always beyond us.

But Dürer’s stalled angel also gives us one of the most compelling images of the artist we have. A picture that shows failure to create is a complete creation itself, consummate and marvelous in its workmanship, its expression. The midnight figure is bright in contrasts, the whites of her eyes against her somber face, the luminous folds of her robe against a darkened space. A scene of inactivity is charged with dynamic, in the energy of her arched wings, the push from the outlines of the many shapes, in the spiraling line of composition that runs from the eyes of the bat through the eyes of the putto, of the angel, of the sullen dog.

There is no contradiction in any of this, as there are no contradictions in art. Nor is there irony, as we see exactly what we should expect. We are shaped by our conflicts and contradictions, our reaches, our misses, and our doubts: these give us life. And the failure to represent the divine visibly points all the more to its invisible presence. It is our balanced, symmetrical representations and our clear resolutions into action that are ironic because they always fall short of our desires, of our projections, and they touch a different kind of madness.

The engraving is built on a correspondence of symbols based on theology, philosophy, and common understanding that connected the universe from the material to the celestial, that ran deep in Dürer’s culture. The four humors “were supposed to be coessential with the four elements, the four winds (or directions of space), the four seasons, the four times of day, and the four phases of life.” His angel, holding, beneath instruments of measurement, echoes a prior woodcut “Typus Geometriae,” a woman representing geometry, the study that in the Renaissance was the foundation for creating art and understanding the structure of the world. Saturn, the original creator, inspired geometry as well as fueled imagination with furor melancholicus. The dog and bat were his. I won’t develop all the sources and connections, however, because I’d only repeat what Panofsky has so thoroughly and beautifully written. Also we know today none of the assumptions and correspondences are true.

But what we know is false now wasn’t true then, yet still we have Melencolia I, who still holds us captive. There’s a paradox here that needs to be sounded. If we reject the divine, and we have, we need to replace it with something else. Our lives, like our art, depend upon how much we can draw from within and reach without.

melmath

I will leave the magic square and the devices for measuring weight, time, and space hanging on the wall and ignore them. Mathematics, like our logic, we now know talks only to itself. They will also serve as reminders to deflect a world that cannot tolerate imprecision or imperfection, or indulges them too much.

meltools

I will keep the tools on the floor because I still have dreams of constructing and peopling homes and cities and worlds. But I will add a jackhammer and wrecking ball to test their strength, or demolish the facile abstractions that now surround us or any I might create.

melbat

The bat stays where he is, soaring above a leaden sea, who will scream my every waking minute to help me maintain vigilance, see terror overlooked, or induce it when I fall complacent.

meldog

I will get a dog, lean, clenched, and perpetually morose, and have him lie at my feet to anchor my flights.

melangelputto

And I will ponder my next project, moved by what is not there, what might be, what always never will be. Or let my amanuensis putto scribble away idly while I brood in dark brilliance and do nothing.

Gary Garvin

Mar 262017
 

“We were in a boat and we were in love and we maybe made you in the blackest moments of this sea.” —Imaginary map by Nance Van Winckel

I thought I’d call this simply THE REALLY BIG issue because, hard as I try to beat back the tide, the issues keep getting  bigger, and this one, well, this one is out there in the stratosphere of issue bigness. But then I saw Susan Aizenberg’s interview with Nance Van Winckel with Nance’s inventive hybrid visual works and I realized that what we are doing here is creating imaginary maps. Everyone who contributes fills in a little personal section of the territory. So I’m calling it the IMAGINARY MAPS issue.

We have this month some truly amazing work. I hope you all read and dwell on these gems. In particular we have gorgeous essays: Warren Motte on the late Harry Mathews, Jeremy Brunger on Kafka, “The Metamorphosis,” and what it means to be a bug, the London-based Italian writer Daniela Cascella on reading Isak Dinesen’s story “The Blank Page,” and a lyric essay by Abby Frucht. We also have performance art by Quintan Ana Wikswo, poetry by Michelle Boisseau and Patrick O’Reilly, new fiction by Russell Working and Tatiana Ryckman, and a My First Job essay by Roberta Levine. As I mentioned, our poetry editor Susan Aizenberg interviews Nance Van Winckel. And from Ireland in our Uimhir a Cúig series, we have poems by the inimitable Afric McGlinchey. From Russia, we have poems by the great Marina Tsvetaeva translated by Mary Jane White. Julie Larios reviews Make Yourself Happy, a new poetry collection by Eleni Sikelianos (we also have an excerpt from the book and an interview with the author). Newcomer Michael Carson reviews the new novel Spoils by Brian Van Reet, Joseph Schreiber reviews the novel Frontier by the Chinese experimental writer Can Xue, and Ben Woodard reviews the long-awaited novel Blue Fields by Elise Levine.

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Mar 212017
 

In October, we published new poems by Okla Elliott, an energetic, prolific, young writer and political activist (oh, how I enjoyed retweeting his comments through the election last fall!). And then last night, Allan Cooper emailed me to say that Okla had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. He was just 39. This happened two nights ago, the night or March 19. In my dealings with Okla, I knew he was generous, helpful, probably overworked. He had a lot of irons in the fire from fiction, translation, essays, and poetry to publishing (new and neglected writers). He wrote Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide, which came out last year. I think it took a good couple of years to finally get those poems. But I liked him. I thought this relationship would burgeon into a friendship as so many other have since I’ve been publishing the magazine.

But it was not to be. A short and busy life.

There is a nice obituary with many comments at Stanford’s Book Haven blog.

And here is one of the poems we published, which seems, now, prescient.

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Antinomies and Intensities

1.

Askew, askew, I float. The darkling waters
turn my helpless boat round.
The rippling dots of starlight—dead stars, dead.

The rippling of starlight on the water
and overhead. Silently, I merge the world
with my mind. Silently, it becomes one world.

I wobble myself upright and balance.
The body’s warm intensities, its needs,
its abilities. All of this, turning slowly

on the night’s river.

2.

I watch the weather gather
yellow doom into its belly.

The water will wash runnels through the sand.
It will wash away the self-monuments of man.

Say your prayers. The sky won’t listen.
Say them anyway.
The sound of human voice in the storm,
this might be of more value than we can guess.

3.

There is a vowel in the wind. A voiceless vowel.
There is joy in the void. A hopeless joy.

I will ride the waters over the cliff
into the abyss.

I will embrace this apocalypse—

Mar 182017
 

Here’s a nice little note about my novel Elle by Eugene Mirabelli. Read the teaser below and click on the link to read the rest. This is a lesson in synchronicity. I was just talking to Michael Carson (a writer soon to appear on these pages) about Curzio Malaparte. I am rereading Kaputt, and Michael was extemporizing about La Pelle. And then Eugene shows up with a reference to La Pelle here.

Eugene Mirabelli

Other aspects of this novel that set it apart are its fascinating surreal passages. Very few novels depicting historical events are also, in part, surrealist fictions. I recall a novel by Curzio Malaparte, La Pelle, that came out shortly after the second world war, a novel in which the real horrors of the war joined easily and smoothly with surreal passages. Douglas Glover makes similar moves in Elle, transitioning from the factual terrors of being marooned on a small island in a merciless Canadian winter to Marguerite’s hallucinations to the presence of a real magical bear – or maybe it’s a real bear.

By the way, the surrealism in Douglas Glover’s novel isn’t just another name for authorial invention. In an earlier brilliant and underappreciated novel, The Life and Times of Captain N., published back in 1993, the author presents a horrific vision of battles in Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution, but the nightmarish visions in that book are nailed to the commonplace world of human violence in realist fashion. In both novels, Glover mangles and distorts the facts to get at the truth.

Source: Douglas Glover’s Elle – Critical Pages

Mar 162017
 

SJBtopsection

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

from Hart Crane, “To Brooklyn Bridge”

A routine is a repetition that both breaks the day and places us in it, giving our lives the appearance of structure, of order. A bridge is a repetition of structural elements that orders a way beyond our routines, to thoughts of other things, or that appearance.

I have a routine where after the morning’s work I walk to the St. Johns Bridge and down to the Willamette River. If I miss a day my life feels incomplete. I live across the street from the playground of an elementary school and leave late morning to avoid the shouts and shrieks of the kids at recess, an inseparable mix of joy and chaos, though sometimes I take their noise with me. By that time I’m fatigued anyway, and bogged down in some unresolved disorder. I leave thinking the walk will provide inspiration, that I will return with fresh insight and rejuvenated resolve.

From the east entrance

SJBentry

I descend a side street

SJBSnowSide

down to Cathedral Park, beneath the bridge, where north Portlanders run their dogs, fly drones, and get married.

SJBbelowpark

Then, after following a long viaduct of approach,

SJBapproach

I reach a small floating pier, beneath the span, and walk to its end, my terminus,

SJBPierSnow

where I take a break—I have a bit of a climb back.

And I stand and look out on the river, and free my mind, and wait to see what comes, from without, from within.

SJBpierview2

Designed by David Steinman, an engineer of considerable reputation, the bridge was the result of local initiative and remains a source of civic pride and identity. Boosters staged vaudeville acts throughout Multnomah County to promote funding; images have since multiplied across St. Johns, on the banner of the neighborhood newspaper, on storefronts, on posted bills and t-shirts. Construction started a month before the Crash of ’29.

Yet while it set several records when built, the St. Johns Bridge is not well known and pales before more recent structures that move us to greater awe. Really, there was no compelling need to build it and it serves no large purpose now. The plan then was to connect the small industrial communities of Linnton and St. Johns, some five miles north of downtown Portland. Today it joins no major freeways on either side. But that is what I like about it, a modesty that encourages intimacy, that it is not especially useful, that it is largely there for itself, that it is distant from the noise of our wonder.

The east anchorage expresses its mass in a squat concrete structure, the energy of its function in steeply curved posts and buttresses, this function formalized in a compressed stance embellished with abstract emblems and stabilized and capped with cornice work,

AnchorDrawingjpg

the energy released in the ascent of the cables to the towers, the cables carrying a tension hard to imagine,

SJBAncho

the tension easing into the sweeping curves of the cables that hold the deck. The suspense of anchorage discharges in the process of suspension. The bridge entire, in the arcade of concrete piers, the latticework of trusses supporting the road deck, the network of thin cables holding the deck from above, scarcely visible, in the division of bracing within the towers—is a complex orchestration of compression and tension brought together into a whole that is graceful, effortless, seemingly weightless, almost ethereal. To me, with my limited knowledge of engineering, such a feat isn’t possible and the bridge is simply marvelous. My spirits lift every time I see it.

SJB4

The bridge was built at a time when the ruling esthetic demanded an honesty of structure, a welding of form to function, and Steinman spoke to the integrity of his design. But another desire, another wish, competed with utility, the American technological sublime, which complemented then supplanted the natural sublime once found in the American landscape. John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge carried the spirit, and Steinman, like Hart Crane, grew up in proximity and professed his close attachment, its influence.

Then there is the other spirit. The gothic arch, once used to elevate belief and bring in light, provides the motif played throughout, in the concrete piers and components of the towers, arches of varying width, height, and pitch. According to Steinman the pointed arch added contrapuntal tension to the rhythm of the suspending cables, but the structure he called “a prayer in steel” also brought past associations and higher thoughts. Today, maybe only nostalgia, and fading questions.

SJBviewPort

I’ve had a touch of vertigo the times I have walked across, however. That used not to bother me. Yet it’s two hundred feet down, and when I look out from the deck I feel the downward temptation. There is this about bridges as well, that they move us to the edge, to another launching point. In the movie Pay It Forward a woman climbs on its railing to make the leap but is saved by a recovering drug addict who walks by and talks her down.

SJB5

Still, the bridge is always there, a point of continuity and stability, an anchor of connection and communication with, yet also of structural separation from, with, from nature that surrounds, its variations through the seasons, with, from the ambiguous, overcast moods of Portland weather that call for some kind of brightness, with my shifting thoughts, from the fog of my moods.

SJBfogbelow

But only this is certain one day to the next: our structures are just structures, our function is undefined.

SJBPierFog

I wait at the end of the pier until I realize I am waiting. Nothing ever comes, in fact I put my work aside and let it drift. But I always get this release, this revelation: I am free and I am alive, and I don’t have answers to anything.

Gary Garvin

Mar 092017
 

Jonah told me to watch this Ted Talk video. We’ve both been troubled by the decline of civil discourse and the growing intransigence when it comes to allowing the other to have a voice. Megan’s talk is not about what’s wrong with the Westboro Baptist Church but about what kinds of dialogue (on Twitter, my fav) that made her begin to question herself and find avenues for change. It’s a simple but engaging message about some old values — seeing the other as a person, showing grace, courtesy and even humour, keeping cool, and, above all, engaging instead of dismissing or shutting the other down. Something to keep in mind these days when all the net media and cable news seem to do, right or left, is call out the stupidities of the enemy.

dg

Mar 022017
 

Severn Thompson as Elle.

Here’s yet another news item out of Winnipeg where Elle, the play, is currently enjoying a three-week run (through to March 12).

The latest play at the Prairie Theatre Exchange is required viewing for anyone who wants to catch up on Canadian history usually shrouded in shadows. Elle is a touring production from Toronto-based Theatre Passe Muraille.

Severn Thompson stars as the titular character and Jonathan Fisher features in a supporting role. Thompson adapted the play from Douglas Glover’s 2003 novel of the same name.

“I discovered (the story) from a book in my grandmother’s bookshelf. It had won the Governor General’s prize, but I had somehow missed that in 2003,” Thompson said in an interview Tuesday.

“When I finally read it, it just was illuminating to me of a time in history that I thought was fairly – hmm, I don’t want to be rude – but fairly dull from my memory of early school days,” she said, laughing.

Source: Toronto play ‘Elle’ illuminates atypical colonizer-colonized roles | Metro Winnipeg

Mar 022017
 

I have a new essay out in The Brooklyn Rail this morning, the upshot of an epic obsession, which has riddled my writing style with semicolons and taught me the value of plot triangles. Much gratitude to Wayne Hankey for his marvelous essay “Conversion: Ontological & Secular from Plato to Tom Jones (NC, July, 2014),” which introduced me to the word “kenotic” in regard to Fanny Price, to Laura Michele Diener, who taught me the meaning of “apophatic,” and to Jacob Glover for talking me through the ins and outs of absolutist ethics. You see, it was very much a Numéro Cinq co-production, though the obsession was all mine.

Here’s the closing section. Read the rest at The Brooklyn Rail.

What is truly paradoxical in Mansfield Park is the way it reaches beyond its satire on the marriage customs of Regency England, beyond the conventions of the romantic comedy, and beyond even its theological torque to tell a very modern story about the construction of a self. Much like Wolf’s Christa T., Fanny forges her self not in any positive way but in resisting imperatives, the forms imposed on her by her society and the gaze of the individuals around her. She is not simply a passive character; she is symbolic, fused with theme. I don’t want to, I can’t act, I won’t do that—Fanny Price’s refrain. She defines what action is by not acting. She defines morality by refusing to act.

The climax of Fanny’s non-plot is the sequence of scenes after the ball when she steadfastly persists in refusing to marry Henry Crawford. The fact that she cannot tell anyone that she loves Edmund, least of all Edmund himself, who is obstinately smitten with Mary, makes her appear irrationally stubborn. She remains cagey about her distrust of Henry. She can’t tell Sir Thomas about it at all; she confides in Mary (discreetly) and Edmund (explicitly), but Mary passes Henry’s flirtations off as harmless, and Edmund, too, minimizes Henry’s faults and suggests that time will prove his constancy (weasel words).

Above all, Fanny cannot escape their watchful, measuring eyes. Fanny is alternately cajoled, coerced, bludgeoned, and sent into exile, but she remains true to her principles. She is the poor, underclass cousin who has never stood up for herself before; but in these chapters she asserts herself against every authority, including the wishes of the man she loves. She even makes a speech (unique for Fanny) in which she enunciates what might be called the novel’s quintessential moral (in a novel full of moral discrimination).

“I should have thought,” said Fanny, after a pause of recollection and exertion, “that every woman must have felt the possibility of a man’s not being approved, not being loved by someone of her sex, at least, let him be ever so agreeable. Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself. (292)

This speech reads like a feminist call to arms; those sentiments certainly existed. It asserts Fanny’s right of self-determination, and in the context of the novel, this radical selfhood stands against the ubiquitous dogma of property, propriety, income, estates, inheritance, class, and rank. By extension, it claims for any individual the right of refusal in the face of what the world offers. The basis of self is apophatic: the ability to say, I am not that, and I am not that either. What the world offers is contingent, mired in circumstance, calculation, and history, rated by pre-existing discourses (habits, traditions, forms). The soul proceeds by denial. Its struggle is less a matter of knowing itself as essence than of knowing when it is not itself. Sorting and discarding the trivia of life is the existential duty of the modern.

That Fanny (and the novel) can’t quite live up to this transcendent declaration is a sign of the tension that exists between Austen’s inspiration, the time in which she wrote, and her preferred genre, the romantic comedy. Fanny must marry Edmund Bertram despite the fact that as Edmund himself concedes, she is “too good for him.” Even the narrator is only dimly celebratory about the upshot.

With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune and friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be.

This passage is sometimes construed as Austen’s ironic commentary on the romance genre or the institution of marriage. But we must wait another 150 years for a manifest critique of that ending in the form of John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman in which the author offers readers the possibility, among others, that the disgraced, impoverished, abandoned female lead might continue to exist on her own and even prosper. When her lover finally appears after a gap of years, she remains cool, aloof – inviolable; she has her own life and no need of rescuing by a man.

Read the entire essay at The Brooklyn Rail: “The Erotics of Restraint, or the Angel in the Novel: A Note on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park by Douglas Glover.

Mar 012017
 

In  the slider at the top of the page this month, we are featuring creative nonfiction selections from the magazine’s vast archives picked by the indispensable Laura Michele Diener (look her up: essays, reviews and her scintillating letter from Florence). In keeping with the magazine’s eclectic approach to creative nonfiction, Laura Michele’s choices are astonishingly diverse. But she’s found some gems: a Christmas sermon by Hilary Mullins, Melissa Fisher’s prize-winning “My First Job” essay, Natalia Sarkissian’s haunting photo essay on the annual Feast of Sacrifice in Alexandria, Egypt, Mark Jay Mirsky on reading Dante, Genese Grill’s essay on Italy and meaning (with illustrations), Domenic Stansberry on Leonard Gardner and his novel Fat City and Diana Whitney’s lovely essay “Kissing.”