Aug 262014

“After serving tea (Valerie Eliot told us) she had gently led Pound, now 83 and feeble, to a table she’d prepared near a window. On the table lay THE MANUSCRIPT. Mrs. Eliot rejoined Olga Rudge, and the women retreated to a neutral corner, leaving Pound alone with pages he had not laid eyes on since 1922. Looking at them, the old man must have been overwhelmed by memories of that time, and of what had followed….”

From the NC Archives. Click here to read the whole amazing essay.

Aug 252014

“The bird lists away; it steers a faltering course before wind halts its progress altogether. It hangs motionless there, fighting the wind. Why will the creature not turn, let the current sweep it away? Matters are not as they should be. Must every breath be an ordeal? The bird’s wings close, wind releases its grip, the bird plummets. This it recognizes, this it knows. It has been here before: this is mere acrobatics, a question of instinct, something in the bones. Time to soar. But all at once the bird is swooping past him. It flits back into the familiar black hole.”

From the Numéro Cinq Archives. Read the story at  Son of Light: Short Story — Leon Rooke.

Aug 242014


“…every poem is a failed translation.”

From the NC Archives: Translations from the Odes of Horace, from Issue 9, our first year of publication. Click here to read Steven Heighton’s introduction and the poems.



Aug 242014

“Up there we drive green channels riven in the clouds, ride stormscud and kerosene colours in the sky, then we ease our wavering selves down, down to this outer borough, down to rumpled family rooms and black yawning garages, down to the spanking new suburb unboxed in the onion fields.”

From the NC Archives. Click here to read the rest of the story.



Aug 232014

Adam Westra


“…the idea that other people to some extent live on inside us (that we are able, to a certain extent, to reproduce foreign “strange loops” in our brains) can come off as merely bizarre in the imaginary “Twinwirld”, but suddenly becomes, not just more plausible, but deeply insightful, even poetic, in Hofstadter’s passionate and earnest wrestling with the sudden loss of his wife Carol.”

From the NC Archives. Good grief, there is so much good stuff in the Back Issues. Have you looked lately? Click here and read the rest.


Aug 232014

Translator, David Helwig


“I kissed her for the last time, shook her hand, and we separated—forever. The train was already moving. I sat in the neighbouring compartment—it was empty—and until the first village I sat there and cried.”

From the NC Archives, 2010. Chekhov’s “About Love” in a brand new translation. Click here and read the story.


Aug 162014


Photo: Luke Macgregor / Reuters

Over at BuzzFeed Books, I talked to 18 story writers about their decisions to shift focus and write novels. Some of the folks on the list are NC favorites like Lydia Davis, Jess Row, and Ondjaki, but I also chatted up Charles Baxter, Roxane Gay, Stephen Graham Jones, Maya Lang, Vanessa Blakeslee, Courtney Maum, Lindsay Hunter, Rebecca Makkai, Laura van den Berg, Bret Anthony Johnston, Jennine Capó Crucet, Julia Elliot, Amelia Gray, Ted Thompson, and Kevin Wilson. Everyone brought something different to the table. No two authors had the same answers to my inquiries. In all, it was a pretty fascinating article to put together.

Here’s a snippet from my intro:

It happens all the time: A writer publishes a wonderful collection of short stories and then moves into the heady world of the novel. But why did he or she decide to go long? Was there pressure to take on a novel? Did the new story dictate a higher word count? Did the writer simply feel inspired to shift focus?

Read the rest over at BuzzFeed Books.

— Benjamin Woodard

Aug 132014

Sleepless in ___________, wherever. Instead of more productive pursuits (I can list 986 without breaking a sweat) I am watching old Robin Williams videos, remembering the energy he used to throw off, looking for it and not finding it much in his later work, stand up, interviews, movie clips. Even his first TV gig, Mork and Mindy, isn’t as good as I remember. Williams tamed, surrounded by energy-less pools of inert acting.

Then I found these videos wherein he is mostly by himself or with an audience (also one with Johnny Carson, fairly inert himself). In one, he looks at the audience and mimics someone saying, “What the heck is he doing now?” Then Williams says something like, “Too fast? Come on, catch up!” (You watch it. I probably didn’t get the words right, except for the “Catch up.”)

Not enough artists have the nerve to tell the audience to catch up. Would there were more.

Haunting how many suicide jokes he made in passing.


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Aug 102014


Everyone, this is to let you know that I’m appearing at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, in Sechelt BC, August 17. Sechelt is on the spectacular west coast of BC, just up from Vancouver. If you’re in the neighbourhood, drop by. (Some of you in the Antipodes can catch rides on the NC company jet; also buses will be chartered from Major Cities in N America.)

I will read from my novel Lucky, winner of the Mother Tongue Search for the Great BC Novel Contest (also nominated for an Ethel Wilson Fiction Award). The novel is set in both the Middle East and Canada. The story follows Anika Lund, a war photographer, as she searches for the infamous terrorist, Zayid, igniting a series of terrifying events.

I’ll also discuss, elaborate and explain a range of writerly topics from research techniques to story structure, character development, and the inevitable question that everyone asks – was I there?

Also on the menu is Bill Gaston, a Numéro Cinq contributor and novelist reading from his latest work of fiction, The World, an Ethel Wilson Fiction Award winner.

Praise for Lucky includes this gem: “Kathryn Para’s astonishing novel — astonishing in its scope and depth, astonishing as a first novel — is the winner of Mother Tongue Publishing’s 2nd “Search for the Great BC Novel…Para’s depictions of the war scenes in Lucky are stunning, her understanding of the political forces at play, astute; these sections ring with a profound authenticity. Yet it’s the heartbreaking, personal account of Ani that is so enlightening…” M.A.C. Farrant, author of  The World Afloat and My Turquoise Years.

Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts—Sunday, August 17, 2:3o p.m.


Aug 092014


Extraordinary Carlos Schwabe illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal.” See many more images posted at the sepia path. Read the poems in French and English translations here.


J’aime le souvenir de ces époques nues

J’aime le souvenir de ces époques nues,
Dont Phoebus se plaisait à dorer les statues.
Alors l’homme et la femme en leur agilité
Jouissaient sans mensonge et sans anxiété,
Et, le ciel amoureux leur caressant l’échine,
Exerçaient la santé de leur noble machine.
Cybèle alors, fertile en produits généreux,
Ne trouvait point ses fils un poids trop onéreux,
Mais, louve au coeur gonflé de tendresses communes
Abreuvait l’univers à ses tétines brunes.
L’homme, élégant, robuste et fort, avait le droit
D’être fier des beautés qui le nommaient leur roi;
Fruits purs de tout outrage et vierges de gerçures,
Dont la chair lisse et ferme appelait les morsures!

Le Poète aujourd’hui, quand il veut concevoir
Ces natives grandeurs, aux lieux où se font voir
La nudité de l’homme et celle de la femme,
Sent un froid ténébreux envelopper son âme
Devant ce noir tableau plein d’épouvantement.
Ô monstruosités pleurant leur vêtement!
Ô ridicules troncs! torses dignes des masques!
Ô pauvres corps tordus, maigres, ventrus ou flasques,
Que le dieu de l’Utile, implacable et serein,
Enfants, emmaillota dans ses langes d’airain!
Et vous, femmes, hélas! pâles comme des cierges,
Que ronge et que nourrit la débauche, et vous, vierges,
Du vice maternel traînant l’hérédité
Et toutes les hideurs de la fécondité!

Nous avons, il est vrai, nations corrompues,
Aux peuples anciens des beautés inconnues:
Des visages rongés par les chancres du coeur,
Et comme qui dirait des beautés de langueur;
Mais ces inventions de nos muses tardives
N’empêcheront jamais les races maladives
De rendre à la jeunesse un hommage profond,
— À la sainte jeunesse, à l’air simple, au doux front,
À l’oeil limpide et clair ainsi qu’une eau courante,
Et qui va répandant sur tout, insouciante
Comme l’azur du ciel, les oiseaux et les fleurs,
Ses parfums, ses chansons et ses douces chaleurs!

Charles Baudelaire




Aug 082014


Not to be too confusing, but this is a review of Butterfly Stories, written eons ago in the time before time (1993 to be precise) for Boston Globe Books. It came up in conversation just now, and I looked to see if I still had a copy. It was on a disc of old files in my safety deposit box. Go figure. I liked what I wrote. So here you go.


Butterfly Stories
A Novel
By William T. Vollmann
Grove/Atlantic Press
200 pp.; $22


William T. Vollmann is a certified literary phenomenon. In his early thirties, he already has seven books to his credit, including two installments of a multi-volume fictional history of the North American continent. His journalism appears in high profile glossies like Esquire magazine. The Review of Contemporary Fiction recently hailed him as a writer destined to “eventually achieve historical importance.” He even runs his own publishing house, specializing in limited art editions of his work selling for thousands of dollars.

Vollmann’s latest novel Butterfly Stories — not part of the projected continental magnum opus — harks back to the author’s earlier and continuing obsession with prostitution. In The Rainbow Stories (1989), for example, Vollmann wrote about hookers and hangers-on in San Francisco’s slums. The Review of Contemporary Fiction spread features photographs of the author with assorted prostitutes — in one the author has his hand up the skirt of a black prostitute identified as an AIDS victim. His self-published The Convict Bird sports a bookmark made with a lock of a prostitute’s hair.

This time Vollmann, or Vollmann’s fictional alter-ego — identified as “the journalist” — ranges through Thailand and Cambodia with a photographer accomplice, flitting like a butterfly from one prostitute to another, tubes of K-Y jelly in one hand and packages of (mostly unused) condoms in the other.

The journalist catches an amazing array of sexually transmitted diseases. He worries about Pol Pot and the terrible things some of his whore-lovers and their families have suffered. He falls in love with a Cambodian hooker named Vanna who vanishes. Then he returns to the United States so haunted by Vanna’s disappearance that he divorces his wife and devotes himself to tracking down the missing prostitute. He also discovers that he has won the STD lottery and is carrying the HIV virus.

Butterfly Stories is a startling amalgam of self-destructive behavior, seedy detail (so much as to raise the issue of puerility, though perhaps this is a reaction the author intends), arcane philosophizing, and over-ripe prose that works by virtue of its very strangeness. Butterfly Stories reads like a cross between Henry Miller, Hunter Thompson, William Burroughs and something written by a kid with a green mohawk, EAT MOMMY tattoos, and nails in his ears. Or it reads like one of those postmodern art installations — chaotic, temporary, challenging in its bad taste, and riddled with scattershot culture-bashing.

“The journalist never tried the photographer’s condoms,” writes Vollmann, “because he didn’t even use his own as much as (to be honest) he should have; but the photographer, who tried both, decided that the journalist had really made the right decision from a standpoint of friction and hence sensation; so that is the real moral of this story, and those who don’t want anything but morals need read no further.” [p.26]

This is interesting, this is new, this is weird. No doubt about it. This is the death of modernity with a vengeance. And what we are left with, Vollmann seems to say, is not Nietszche’s Superman or existentialism’s romantic loner but a kind of Judeo-Christian moral sludge. This moral sludge, with its self-absorbed pop spirituality, neo-racism, platitudinous liberalism, and open acceptance of violence as a form of human interaction, is the dominant philosophical system in America today.

The argument of Butterfly Stories is rigorously logical. Pol Pot persecutes prostitutes (Vanna wears the scars of her persecution on her back). America persecutes prostitutes. Therefore, America and Pol Pot are identically tyrannical, fascist, and genocidal. This simple syllogism turns all our cultural assumptions upside-down, and wanting to catch AIDS from a Thai prostitute named Oy or Toy becomes an acceptable ethical choice. The homely little HIV virus becomes the Holy Grail of an inverted universe of values. (It is important to note that these prostitutes are not real characters. Nor is this book titillating or even informative about prostitution. Prostitutes are simply Vollmann’s shorthand metaphor for the mudsill, bottom-level victims of society.)

In this new universe, words like “love” begin a strange migration. Thai chambermaids say, “I wuff you.” Having sex with a sick partner without a condom is love. A prostitute allowing a john to kiss her on the mouth is love. Trying to get an erection, despite debilitating illness and lack of interest, so you won’t hurt a prostitute’s feelings is love. Buying a prostitute drink after drink so you won’t have to sleep with her and be unfaithful to another is love. And, conversely (since, in the world of moral sludge, consistency is a fascist value), being unfaithful, sleeping with another prostitute, though regretting it, is love.

Butterfly Stories ends up being a parody of the traditional romance novel in which the knight errant-journalist falls chastely in love (love is just wanting to hold a prostitute without having sex) with an unreachable, ideal woman who becomes the goal of his adventures. Vanna disappears only to become Western man’s traditional absent love object (the fantasy wife as opposed to the real wife at home doing the laundry). The fact that she may just be hiding out from a tiresome john is heavily ironic, even comic.

The joke, finally, is on the journalist-hero who wanders through Butterfly Stories sick and sick at heart, toiling in the coils of romantic calf-love, and spreading disease in the name of sexual adventure. He doesn’t even have a name. He is Graham Greene’s ugly American and he is Everyman. He is the new hero, the epitome of moral sludge, a walking, talking, self-incriminating critique of the Western world.

Vollmann goes farther than any American writer in expressing his national self-disgust. He consigns his readers to a region of despair where even the hope of hope is lost, where even the consolation of some fragmentary beauty is denied. Butterfly Stories is one long, intricate and disturbing epitaph on a dying civilization.

—Douglas Glover


Aug 062014


Good God! The mind reels. The last living witness of the Lincoln assassination brought on a TV game show (after falling down his hotel stairs) and for his trouble he gets a tin of pipe tobacco. Normally, he would have gotten a carton of Winstons (the show’s sponsor), but the dear man didn’t smoke cigarettes (probably how he got to be 96). The clash of myth, history and inane Americana is about as much as I can bear for one evening.

Yes, the dear, dear man. During the assassination and aftermath, he most worried about John Wilkes Booth whom he’d witnessed falling out of the theater box.

Now I’ll have to break out the Talisker, set up a feeding tube.

Watch the video below and remember you saw it here on NC.



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Aug 022014

CaptureAn elf

People living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And if you’re in Iceland, even displacing a stone could be sacrilegious. That’s because there could be elves under there.

Warped rock in the continental rift between the North American and Eurasian plates. There may be elves hidden in there.

Don’t ask why, but I”m on the loose in this lusciously green country of volcanos, glaciers, geysers, and $30 fish-and-chips. (Don’t even get me started on the price of beer.) I’ve found this country of 325,000 people to be an exotic, friendly (tourist-trappy, even) haven for lovers of isolation, the outdoors, and folklore.

As the ridiculously cool Settlement Exhibition explains, scientists are still uncertain when the island was first discovered, ever since a recent unearthing of pre-Viking ruins debunked the conventional story that Ingólfur Arnarson was the original settler, in 874.


And as detailed here last year, another ongoing mystery is the existence of “hidden people,” or elves. They live among the rocks in the lava fields that cover substantial parts of the island. Now, many Icelanders kind of mock this traditional superstition, but few have gone so far as to say they are certain elves don’t exist. On one tour I joined, the guide spoke of elves without a trace of irony. On the other hand, ethologist Árni Björnsson suggests only 10% of Icelanders actually believe in the little guys.

Many are agnostic on the issue. That’s partly why activists have successfully protested even large-scale construction projects in the name of the Huldufólk.

CaptureFemale elf near tree hideout. I myself did not see this.

Whether elves themselves exist or not, there’s something uncanny and lovely about the idea of a “hidden” entity contributing to the mystique and beauty of this rather unique country. At the time of this writing, no elves were immediately available for comment. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

A geyser with water reaching 80-100 degrees Celsius. Probably no elves in there, but the steam felt quite lovely.
The heath and lake in the continental rift.
The gorgeous Gullfoss (gold fall), so powerful it sprayed much water up onto its visitors.
The gorgeous Gullfoss (gold fall), so powerful it sprayed much water up onto its visitors.
No elves out here in the ocean, where I caught a majestic rainbow rising above the mainland. I was riding to the Westman Islands, where a 1963 volcano birthed one of the world's youngest islands, Surtsey.
No elves out here in the ocean, where I caught a majestic rainbow rising above the mainland. I was riding to the Westman Islands, where I observed colonies of the beautiful puffin and where a 1963 volcano birthed one of the world’s youngest islands, Surtsey.

—Tom Faure (on Elf Assignment for NC)


Aug 012014

Here are a few paragraphs from the opening of my essay on Witold Gombrowicz’s novel Cosmos. The essay was just published this morning at 3:AM Magazine.  A great magazine, a pleasure to appear there.

Note my amazing coinage “onanomaniacal.”  I was asked to explain what the word meant. I wrote:

Onanomaniacal is my coinage. It combines Onan (Genesis, Chapter 38) and “maniacal”. God smites Onan for “spilling his seed” on the ground. This is most often construed as masturbation (although some biblical critics are more precise and suggest it might just be coitus interruptus). In any case, Onan is the great masturbator of the Bible and hence Onanomaniacal means something like the adjective form of frenzied masturbator. So it’s a joke, of sorts. And there is quite a lot of talk of masturbation in Cosmos.

I used to drive by a warehouse in Guelph, Ontario, which bore the sign “Onan Generators” — this always seemed hilarious to me.



In Cosmos — the title makes it obvious — Gombrowicz is satirizing the phenomenology of world creation, the mental process by which we construct a frame of meaning for ourselves. Not the world (whatever that is), my world. Both inside and outside the novel (that is, in so-called real life), the modus operandi of consciousness is comically super-rational and simultaneously self-defeating (Husserl demonstrated that reason was never going to get where it said it was going). You (a subject, a consciousness) begin to notice hints of repetition and pattern; you look for other instances of the pattern in the chaotic flux of sensation; and eventually you decide the pattern is real. This is the procedure of reason and science. But, of course, in Cosmos what seems real to the narrator is in fact utterly contingent and often ridiculous or even murderous.

Form cannot enclose reality, but form always threatens to become reality. That is the antinomy of the novel: you can’t fit the world into a book, and yet form (read: custom, tradition, ideology, inter-personal expectation, etc.) is always threatening to derail the life of the individual, that is, there is always someone or some thing trying to fit you into his book. Cosmos is, in part, a horror story in which the monstrous evil is a form (in this case, a literary device) that haunts the narrator and eventually takes over his life. Instead of Godzilla or the mad slasher moving ineluctably toward its victim, the villain of Cosmos is an image pattern.

There are two other forces working on the human mind besides reason. One is the dark and unknowable current of desire; the narrator, whose name is Witold, can’t sleep with the girl he’s attracted to so he suddenly and incomprehensibly kills her cat (it’s a sick joke, right? He orgasmically strangles her pussy). The other force is the desire or gaze of the other. As soon as you enter a relationship (however trivial), you begin to bend yourself to fulfill, oppose or circumvent the desire (expectation, form) of the other. Even if you resist, the purity of selfhood has been corrupted. So you construct another self in secret, the masturbatory self, the self who doesn’t have to relate or unmask himself before the eyes of the other (but who is corrupt, seedy, infantile, trivial and evasive in any case).

Out of this triangle of forces, Gombrowicz creates a truly awe-ful, hilarious novel. The narrator discovers patterns and deduces meaning; his own sexual violence betrays reason; he discovers that the secret life of the adult male patriarch is one of chronic secret masturbation (the creation of private, obsessive cosmos).

Read the rest at Consciousness & Masturbation: A Note on Witold Gombrowicz’s Onanomaniacal Novel Cosmos » 3:AM Magazine.


Jul 312014

R W GrayR. W. Gray

Top of the Page this month is the inimitable R. W. Gray, Senior Editor, the wizard behind our wildly successful Numéro Cinq at the Movies series, a unique collection of short films with commentaries; you can’t find anything like it anywhere else, a major cultural achievement. Rob has also contributed a full length screenplay for the feature film Alice & Huck and the title story from his amazing collection Crisp.

Besides his personal contributions to the magazine, he has nurtured a broad array of new talent, including people like Jared Carney, Jon Dewar, Megan MacKay, Sophie Lavoie (who also appears in the August issue as a translator), Erin Morton and Taryn Sirove. All these names appear in the Numéro Cinq at the Movies series. But there is still more: he has edited a special series in which he coupled poets and critics. One of these pieces — The Sally Draper Poems: A Poem Cycle by Jennica Harper, Introduced by Tammy Armstrong — became one of our all time most popular posts when it got mentioned on

Needless to say, the magazine wouldn’t be what it is today without Rob Gray. It’s been one of the pleasures of editing the magazine to have gotten to know him so well.



R. W. Gray (Numéro Cinq at the Movies) was born and raised on the northwest coast of British Columbia, and received a PhD in Poetry and Psychoanalysis from the University of Alberta in 2003. He is the author of Crisp, a short story collection, and two serialized novels in Xtra West magazine and has published poetry in various journals and anthologies, including Arc, Grain, Event, and dANDelion. He also has had ten short screenplays produced, including Alice & Huck and Blink. He currently teaches Film at the University of New Brunswick in Frederiction.

Jul 312014

Copy of Wojahn Pub photo NoelleDavid Wojahn

Our review of the Niedecker and Lax poetry collections, reviewed by David Wojahn, just got reviewed itself over at The Poetry Foundation blog. The reviewer even quotes dg (um, without attribution). This must be a first. NC is making waves. (Do I have to explain this? It’s a pun on Wave Books, the publisher of the collections under review. Oh, hell, read it all. Links below.)


At Numéro Cinq, poet David Wojahn has penned an essay likening Wave Books to the salad days of Grove Press and New Directions, then steers his gratitude toward Lorine Niedecker and Robert Lax, whose Selected Poems 1962-1997 was edited by Lax’s former assistant, John Beer, and published last November. “Wojahn has read long and thought deeply; it’s terrifically bracing to absorb his fluency with poets and traditions, the ease with which he epitomizes lives, works and influences. Such brevity and compression only comes with the profound familiarity and respect. I don’t think it takes a poet to read a poet, but Wojahn makes a good case.”

via Poet David Wojahn on Wave Books, Robert Lax & Lorine Niedecker : Harriet Staff : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation.

Jul 312014

Election count

The Guardian has unveiled its massive longlist for the annual “Not the Booker” prize, an alternative to one of the UK’s (or, perhaps, THE) biggest literary awards, and the titles are quite exciting: Louis Armand’s Cairo, which we published an excerpt from back in December, is included, as are books from Lee Rourke, Dave Eggers, Susan Barker, and the list just goes on and on and on. Here’s what The Guardian has to say about the longlist:

Those are the books you’ve selected for this year’s Not the Booker prize. I’m not even going to count them, there are so many. The thought makes my brain ache. And that’s just the way we like it: challenging, overwhelming, diverse, divisive, full of books of every imaginable type. Interesting, in short.

But wonderful as that list may be, we now have to cut it down. We have to choose the six books that will go though into the next round. And when I say “we”, I really mean you.

So chime in and cast your ballot! You have until August 3rd.

— Benjamin Woodard

Jul 302014

I don’t want to keep cross-posting these Qwiklit lists (cute as they are), but I can’t resist this one because Kevin Barry is on the list and, of course, Kevin Barry has appeared in Numéro Cinq — in the inaugural Uimhir a Cúig feature. Barry wrote an amazing voice over text for a video by the Galway artist Louise Manifold. Watch the video and read the text here: Uimhir a Cúig | On Being There and Not Being There; or Cotard’s Delusion, A Case Study: Text & Video — Kevin Barry & Louise Manifold.

Anyway, here is the Qwiklit list and explanation (among other things, for why James Joyce isn’t on the list).


It is difficult to dispute the place of James Joyce among the Pantheon of all literary greats, but Ireland has much more to offer than his modernist virtuosity. As a country that has suffered through famine, civil strife and poverty for decades, it is quite relieving to see just how rich their literary tradition actually is. Not only is it the ancestral home of Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, but many of the finest active writers have a firm footing on the contemporary fiction scene. Here are some of the finest works from the post-Joycean era:

Read the complete list at 15 Essential Irish Novels | Qwiklit.